Surgery #2: reconstruction day

Here are two photos. One is from me at 9:30 am today, a half hour before my surgery. The other is me a half hour after my surgery. Please examine carefully and note the differences.

 

If you guessed that I’m wearing a  blue beanie and have implants instead of the saline filled expander/torture device I’ve come to loathe over the past few months, you are absolutely correct! CongratulaI was kind of a badass today, to be honest. I tell you that because I want you to be one as well, should you ever share a similar situation. I’ve always found it helpful to mimic someone else’s plan rather than reinvent the wheel. We learn from history.

I have never  been even remotely interested in being a whiner or in living life with my glass half full. No one should. My advice?

Don’t allow yourself to settle for membership in the Club for the Defeated. Lame snacks and no cute guys. Aim higher.

Here is my surgery day in a nutshell (not really, it was at UW).

  • My amazing sister-in-law, Annie, came to town to help me with my daughter and to remind me not to move furniture.
  • My amazing boyfriend helped me to the hospital and showered me with positive pre and post-surgery good vibes, so I went under anesthesia with happy thoughts – hopefully I don’t talk in my surgery sleep.
  • I closed my eyes and thought of laughing and dancing in Scott’s kitchen the night.before, and all the most beautiful parts of my world and then drifted off to my drug-induced, mid-morning nap.
  • I woke up about four hours later , greeted by the awesome UW Medical staff – a group of people, incidentally, who have made every moment of my hospital stays not only tolerable but legitimately  pleasant. Seriously.
  • I got dressed right away – surprising, and I think slightly concerning, the nursing staff.
  • I ate some applesauce and asked to leave.
  • My sister picked me up and we went to the grocery store to get stuff for dinner and a latte.
  • We went home and I made dinner for a few guests, still a little wasted.
  •  We stayed up and talked for a few hours, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company.

Here are some cool things that happened.

  • The sun was shining on a beautiful, almost fall day.
  • I received thoughtful, supportive texts from thoughtful, supportive people.
  • A beautiful flower arrangement showed up at my house. I really love getting flowers..
  • I ate dinner with a few of my favorite people. We had smashed chicken.
  • I woke up this morning, grateful that I was having surgery, and that breast reconstruction had advanced so much in the past few years and that I felt so positive about life in general. I woke this morning jnfused with love and happiness and I’m going to bed with it, too.

Here is what I didn’t do, also in a nutshell.

  • I didn’t feel like this was happening TO me, rather that it was happening FOR me.
  • I didn’t scare my daughter by acting nervous or apprehensive.
  • I didn’t lay around post-surgery popping oxy, feeling like an invalid.
  • I didn’t wear my most hideous sweatpants to or from the hospital in defeat.

My next blog post may be about zoo animals and the importance of not following into the syndrome they often experience after being removed from life as they know it. I don’t ever want to be like a zoo animal, cancer or not. Stay tuned.

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©

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The rewrite…formally titled but now having very little to do with “Boobs and stuff”

Every now and then I catch myself expressing my opinion and realize, mid-rant, that I’m not comfortable with my own perspective. I typically don’t make this discovery until I’m in too deep to pivot. Consequently, I either commit to my own bullshit idea or pretend to be distracted by something shiny and quietly disengage. There are also times, like this one, when it doesn’t hit me until much later that I was off track.

In my first attempt to talk about my feelings related to breasts I cheated myself by approaching the topic from a superficial place. I allowed insecurity and doubt to guide my thinking, which disallowed me to find truth in my issue and end-resulted in a vacuous, uninteresting post. Not exactly the provocative content I’m going for here.

One thing about committing to a life of perpetual growth (I’ve done this, by the way, or have I mentioned?) is that, with practice, it becomes increasingly more comfortable to acknowledge my shortcomings. It’s actually amazing how much power is in, simply,  the desire to be better. Listening, communicating, questioning, and re-thinking with open-mindedness and humility lead to revelations and revelations are liberating. It is through this process that I’ve managed to clear away destructive habits and absolute garbage that has been accumulating within for years, making way for positive energy and healing.

Speaking of liberating (and then we’ll get onto the topic alluded to in the title), I would like to suggest the practice of giving yourself permission to be honest. I bet there are a thousand times more “to thine own self be true” tattoos in existence then there are people being true to themselves. It may be very difficult at times to truly examine yourself at times, to take a hard look at the person in the mirror (it’s more difficult when you just wake up and your hair looks like mine), but it’s where you have to start. You have to ask yourself to change your ways. Honestly, there’s no message that’s going to sound any clearer: take a look at yourself and make that change, y’know? Someone should totally write a song about that.

I’d like to pause for a sec to examine my obviously liberal use of punctuation, specifically the excessive commas and awkward syntax of which I’m sure you are acutely aware and possibly even annoyed by. A year ago I may have adamantly defended my choices and maybe even provided material to support whatever parts of it were interpretive enough to argue, perhaps even referencing stream of consciousness aficionada Gertrude Stein, or ee cummings, master of distinct and non-traditional poetic form. Today I embrace my style, thankful for the way it contributes to my expression. Liberating.

Now, back to the boob post. When I think of breasts, which I will from hereon refer to as boobs because the word breast reminds me of chicken, I think of them first as something men look at. I know . I have TWO kids. I should definitely be thinking of boobs/breasts as the essence of life itself and symbolic of the bond between mother and child but, I’m not gonna lie, I just don’t so what are you gonna do. I suspect that most men have been staring at magazine boobs since the first time they got their hands on a porn mag, pacifying themselves with Playboy’s finest until they got their first real look. They seem to really like them. Not being male, I’m not exactly sure what the big deal is. Sincere appreciation of the female form? Mommy issues? Or perhaps just plain old sex stuff. I really don’t know.

Women, on the other hand, seem to chime in on the topic with decisive, albeit varying. opinion. I suspect we may be largely influenced by our innate desire, or lack of such, to be appealing to men. Some women could care less about size, some want them huge, some maintain them like car tires, replacing, rotating, making sure they have plenty of tread. Others want them small and manageable, cramming them into sports bras so they don’t flop around. Seriously, I have a friend who wears a sports bra with everything, including cocktail attire. She could care less. Incidentally, I have another friend who I like just as well who spends more on push ups then groceries, constantly striving to go bigger and better. And then there are women like me, who I think probably comprise the majority regarding our breasts. For me, historically at least, they’ve always just kind of been there, hanging out, so to speak. They started small, got bigger, and bigger again after kids. They changed shape so I changed bras. I honestly didn’t used to give them much thought. Sorry, boobs of my past.

Clearly, things have changed for me. For months I’ve been thinking of little else. Ironic, right? Lately I’ve been having an inordinate number of conversations involving my boobs with doctors and clinicians, friends and family. Everyone wants to chime in about my reconstruction – how big they’re going to be, whether silicone or saline, that kind of thing. I have heard from several friends that I am sooooooo lucky to get a boob job out of this deal. They are sooooooo totally jealous. It’s actually pretty humorous.

Can we pause again for a bit? I need to add a little side comment here because I don’t know where else to put it. If you are one who is fortunate enough to still have your boobs, please try and refrain from bitching about them so much. At least they’re yours. Love them, or if you don’t, get a boob job and move on. Either way, pretty please, show a little gratitude for the fact that they are still attached to your body and not removed because they were chocked full of nasty cancer cells. Can we agree?

It’s hard to focus on boobs right after a cancer diagnosis because you’re probably pretty likely to be focused on death. And then life. And then life and death. And then test results. Good news. Bad news. Delays. Appointments. Reactions. Hospital bills. Drugs. The boob aesthetic, on the other hand, doesn’t really factor in at this point. After my diagnosis, I felt about my boobs as I would a venomous spider latching onto my neck. I just wanted them off. Vanity what? Boyfriends what? Sex what? Loss of femininity? Not my particular focus at the time. I wanted to live and the stupid, disease-ridden things were trying to kill me. They just needed to go.

A few months later, no longer having my original boobs but, in their place, an expander (think instrument of torture over-filled with 450 cc’s of saline). The spider had now been replaced buy a boa constrictor and I started missing the old me, (not the cancer part). It’s not like they were so great, not at all perfect given the mileage, and average size, but at least they were reasonably comfortable. And (bonus) they pretty much looked like everyone else’s so they blended. I blended.

I obsess a little more now regarding the significance of boobs. I suppose they are pretty iconic, adorning everything from statues of ancient Greek goddess artsy fertility symbols, National Geographic photographs from Africa and housewives of the OC. Coming of age heroines have agonized over growing them, headlines have highlighted the injustices of exposing them while breastfeeding, and plastic surgeons have made their careers customizing them for the dissatisfied lot.

It would be awesome to say it doesn’t matter – that my health is everything and I’m not concerned with the superficiality of reconstruction. It would be awesome but it would be bullshit. It matters for a few reasons, the first of which has something to do with the role breasts play in how I identify with my own femininity. The second is that men, clearly, prefer that women have them. That also matters. It’s my blog. I can say that so don’t even go there.

I guess I’ve been feeling a little left out of the boob game lately. I vacillate between feeling frustrated at the long process of expanders and injections and surgeries and feeling like my life is a little bit on hold because I’m not totally complete. I know…it’s petty and ridiculous considering the context, but reasoning with insecurity is truly a beast of a proposition. The good news is that my plastic surgeon is an amazingly talented doctor and promises that I will have a great outcome. That being said, as I sort through my feelings about all the boob stuff, I arrive at a point where I reflect on gratitude. I am deeply grateful for so much these days, for life itself. I am thankful every day for my health, physical and emotional, and the moments that take my breath away, from the simple to complex. Most of all, I am grateful that through all that has happened in the past six months, my ability to love is approaching superpower proportion. I think about it all the time, reflecting on its healing power and positive energy as I continue to learn and grow. I think of how blessed I am to have people in my life to share my superpower with and, even more so, how cool it is that they love me back.

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

 

Pick a mantra, any mantra…

I rewrite mine all the time.  Today it is this:

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There are days where extraordinary events or activities inspire you and others that present challenges. Both are worthy of a solid mantra.

A few years ago I drank too much wine at a charity auction and dropped a ton of money on a cat skiing package. Being a life-long skier I felt completely competent heading up the back country in the CAT along with my group, excited for the perfect conditions brought by a heavy snowfall overnight. We got to the top of our first run, ran through avalanche training protocol and made our way to the edge as the CAT left to meet us at the bottom of the run. By the time I got my first look down the slope (and by slope I mean drop) it was too late to stop the CAT. I was committed. I watched the group, one by one, drop in, up to their shoulders in fresh powder, and new I was, perhaps literally, in over my head. I waited until everyone was down and turned to the guide for last minute encouragement. “Dude,” said the guide, “you should totally pick a theme song and just, like, sing it all the way down. It’ll totally mellow you out.” I picked this one:

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I wish I could say the song kept me from ungracefully wiping out 20 yards later but I can’t. What I can say is that despite my performance, I was empowered by my theme song and committed to my chosen mantra for the rest of the day.

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with my own words to describe, even to myself, how I’m feeling, or to stay positive, hopeful, calm, focused or whatever else it is I need to be. Not even the well intended words of my friends or family seem quite right during these times. So I listen to my songs and read prose by anonymous internet contributors and eventually I connect with what I need to hear and it totally mellows me out, dude. Yeah…

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

 

Stresssss….

Stress manifests in physical symptoms. Believe that and act accordingly…

I don’t understand why medical science places so little emphasis on the role stress plays in wellness.but it’s bullshit. Remember the way your stomach felt before your first day of kindergarten? Stress. How lethargic you felt after your first breakup? More stress. The headaches your mom would get at big family gatherings? Stress again.  So why is it that during the course of my cancer treatments not one of my countless doctors or clinicians talked about the importance of staying emotionally healthy?  I suspect that without accompanying a test or scan or procedure, there’s very little revenue to incentivize stress reduction protocol. Who knows…

The ten years leading up to my diagnosis of breast cancer were stressful. i was in a terrible marriage, buried in hurt and resentment and compensating  compensating for my unhappiness by staying ridiculously busy with volunteer projects and anything else that may distract me from dealing with my issues. Toward the end of the marriage I internalized so much negativity it’s amazing that I was able to function. Interestingly, I received irregular mammogram results two years in a row. I was told both times that o had dense breasts and they were just “normal” calcifications. Looking back now I believe that I was slowly growing toxic. There was a connection between the calcifications news my dense breasts and the calcifications in my spirit. Eventually I left my marriage and all hell broke loose.

There is research based evidence that suggests that cancer breaks through (becomes invasive) around a year or two after a traumatic event. Mine was eighteen months. Textbook. Without completely dragging up that hellish period of time, the quick and dirty version is that I wash fewer in a divorce, left with tons of debt, harassed and belittled a daily basis, dragged through court for custody of my ten year old daughter, all the while on the receiving end of a public smear campaign. It was beyond stressful. I was basically run down for a year, and for the first time in my life, felt unhealthy.

Eventually I pulled myself together and committed myself to a healthy, positive lifestyle. It’s a bit ironic but at the time my cancer was diagnosed I felt better than ever, both physically and emotionally. I’m grateful that I entered my treatment in this state of being. I can’t imagine what shape I’d be in now if I had received the news when I was going through all the drama.

Life is imperfect, that’s for sure  The silver lining is that the universe often aligns itself beautifully when we stay in touch with the signs meant to help navigate us through challenges. Whether it’s cancer or some asshole that cuts you off on in traffic, your ability to effectively deal with negative events in life has a direct correlation to you wtate of being when you meet with adversity.

Positive energy is a beautiful thing. It’s strength is boundless. It’s also allusive and, shocker,,doesn’t just happen because you post inspirational quotes on Instagram. It requires cultivation and tons of patience. You don’t implement positive energy but, rather, achieve it by practicing positive actions. Exercise, kindness, healthy eating, meditation, volunteerism , empathy and work:life balance are all important but won’t be fully effective until you are able to expunge all the emotional garbage that, like cancer, grows and spreads through your body and soul. It is his garbage that stands in the way of wellness.

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Most of us are subtly self-destructive. For years I slowly destroyed some of the best pieces of me. Why do we do that? Why do we eat food that makes us feel bad? Why do we talk about exercise like a punishment?  Why do we date/marry people who make us feel bad about ourselves? Why do we maintain negative friendships or work in jobs that we hate? Are we all just a little bit motivated by negativity? Or maybe we have a subconscious need to self punish for some reason. Righting the karmic balance for past sins? Who knows. And, really, who gives a crap why? id rather spend my time eliminating negative people and habits from my world than sitting in therapy trying to determine whether I have abandonment issues or Catholic guilt.

Positive energy is a strong shield against adversity. It is also a strong target for miserable, soul sucking vampires who resent seeing You happy. Beware. Whether it’s an ex-husband, family member or someone else, there are people who don’t want you to evolve away from the negative atmosphere in which they exist. It’s like when an alcoholic stops drinking and her friends are bummed out because she’s no fun any more. Maybe they even try to get her to  go out and party again. People who are stuck in a negative place need company for validation. It’s messed up but so are a lot of other things that you can’t control.

Arm yourself with the good stuff and face adversity with grace, dignity and positive intention.

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

The allegory of the cave, explained by me (and Plato I guess, but mainly me because it’s my post so, yeah…)

I may get this a little wrong so calm down if you’re a philosophy geek who knows everything. I’m remembering from decades ago the allegory of the cave, Plato’s explanation of reality. He used an imagined conversation between his mentor, Socrates, and a student, some guy. Yeah – I know, eventually someone’s gonna throw in a comment with the guy’s name. Have at it. So the allegory of the cave, wherever I heard it first, had an impact on me. I was the kid in class who came in out of a semi-sleep state, mostly to draw things like 3-D boxes and scrappy self-portraits or experiment with new ways to sign my name. Suffice it to say, I had attention span issues. Given this, it was always somewhat significant when I did connect with a new idea and, over the years, I’ve been consistently impressed when they have turned up to help me make sense of some pretty major life events. The Plato allegory was no exception.

It goes something like this. A bunch of prisoners sit in a row in a dark cave, legs and necks shackled so that they can only see straight ahead of them to a wall. Behind them there is a fire and between the fire and their backs there are puppeteers walking on a path holding various figures, like people and animals. All the prisoners are able to see is the form (shadows) that the figures make on the wall. This is their reality. Plato believes that form is a shallow understanding of reality because, clearly, it is a secondary interpretation of the real thing, the actual object casting the shadow. Regardless, the prisoners spent their days discussing the shadows with each other, forming opinions about who described one form or another better and ranking one  another accordingly.

Today, as I reflect on my life before cancer, I feel like I also experienced this type of false perception. I saw my life, relationships, responsibilities, family and the world in general at face value, as it happened to appear before me. My obligation to interpreting and valuing the true meaning of the facets of my life was limited to my experience. I was born looking a certain way and living in a certain way. I had a family, I had friends and I developed relationships with people. I formed opinions of the people in my life as they presented themselves. I had an idea of who I was by what I saw in the mirror, what people said about me, or how I was rewarded or punished. When I wanted to get a little deeper I would read a book and maybe the author would give me a few more ideas to think about. My reality consistently expanded and consequently, I felt that I was growing and evolving nicely. My universe did not feel limited in the least. 

The allegory continues when Plato describes a prisoner becoming free of the chains and turning around. Or maybe they all did. I forgot. Anyway, he or they turn around and when they see the actual people holding the figures, they were blown away by the details. They realized all at once that their reality had been false and that these figures which had way more depth and detail were real, while their formal perception of reality had been totally wrong.

When I was given the news that I had cancer, I realized all at once, literally in a single moment, that I had it all wrong. I was part of a slow burn to the finish line. I had been accepting reality as it presented itself, using a 2=dimensional approach to my perception of what life really meant. That’s all I knew. I suspect that may be all that most of us lead with. The news came and for the next few days, weeks, my life passed in front of my eyes, just like you hear about, but in slow motion. As the events of almost half a decade presented themselves for my review, something really amazing happened. It was like I was given a second shot at seeing my life. I couldn’t relive it but I could re-examine it. I saw value in things that I previously thought to be trivial and dismissed a ton of cluttery junk that I now deemed worthless. I truly felt that I was given the ability through this experience of seeing the details for the first time. Everything was more vivid and I was acutely aware of what it was to feel real life.

In the last part of the allegory, Plato allows a prisoner to escape the cave and spend time in the outside world. There is sun instead of fire so suddenly reality is not only detailed but vivid and clear, unobstructed by the shadows and firelight. His perception of reality is again altered. When he returns to the cave he tells the other prisoners about what he saw and, sadly, they think he’s lost his mind. He, knowing what he saw to be real, now sees the prisoners as ignorant, separated from reality in the cave. He continues trying to explain (like any good philosopher) but, I’m guessing here, how could he possibly?

I sometimes have an overwhelming urge to evangelize my experience with cancer because it has taught me so much. It probably annoys some people. I don’t remember exactly what it was like to not know what I know now, to not feel what I’m able to feel. The freedom, the peace, and the gratitude that I hold with me now measure the details of the world around me. I look at it now with a deeper love than I could have ever previously imagined. My sincere hope is that I can encourage others to look beyond their perceived views of the world and relish in the awesome details that await them.

LOVE. PEACE. GRATITUDE. 4LIFE

Cancer makeover

For the first days following my surgery to remove the cancer, I obsessed over a mental image of my cancer sitting in a petri dish somewhere, powerless. The idea made me think of the ways that my body had been supporting those cancer cells, feeding them. I turned to the internet for answers. I scoured medical journals, blogs by people whose cancer had been cured by traditional medicine, naturopaths rebuking traditional medicine, and stories of spontaneous, natural healing through diet and alternative treatments. This is enough to make anyone crazy. Being told I have cancer was one of the most frightening events of my life. The  realization that I had the responsibility to make independent decisions that would direct my treatment and determine my outcome was beyond frightening.

One thing that stood out to me was the power that nutrition has to support or restrict cancer. Growing up in the 70’s, we consumed some serious crap. Even in my house, where my mom shopped at the Co-op and crammed buckwheat into anything that may otherwise taste halfway decent, the crap food permeated our pyramid. Spam. Red dye #3. Refined sugar. Kool-aid. Bleached flour. Pesticides and more pesticides. Jello. GMO’s. Cancer causing crap was everywhere around us – water, nuclear power plants, toxic dirt, the backseat of the station wagon our parents hot boxed us in as they sucked down Pall Mall’s with the window cracked a half inch.

When they tell you it’s cancer you think of all this stuff. The jello and cigarettes and asbestos filled classrooms. Of course, the past doesn’t matter at this point but the present is everything. There is SO SO SO much you can do to get healthier. I did a ton of stuff. Here’s what…

  • Throw away your refined sugar. Replace with xylitol, coconut sugar, date sugar, fruit juice, raw honey, molasses, brown rice sugar or barley malt syrup. It tastes natural and good and it won’t slowly kill you like refined sugar will. Seriously, sugar sucks.
  • Throw away your crappy bleached flour.  Replace it with whole wheat flour, spelt flour, brown rice flour, coconut flour, soy flour, millet flour, amaranth flour, arrowroot flour, teft flour, almond flour, oat flour…you get the point. Whit flour sucks, too.
  • Eliminate processed foods.
  • Eat way, way, way more raw foods.
  • Buy organic. I know there are people who disclaim the benefits and say organic is a scam. Whatever. Pesticides suck. I’d rather eat something that got a little pesticide through inadvertently contaminated soil than something that doesn’t even pretend to be organic. The FDA has a way to go with these regs but it’s getting better.  Wash everything really well.
  • Read the ingredients. If they sound sketchy, they’re probably going to slowly kill you.
  • Are you still drinking soda?  Get over it. The Devil Incarbonate.
  • Smoking? Ew. You know what to do here.
  • Fat is a breeding ground for cancer. Get less fat by any means necessary. Eating and not eating the above list will have an amazing effect on eliminating fat. Exercise will exacerbate the process nicely. Get on it.
  • Stop using chemicals in your house and in your yard. Throw them away and go natural. Why wouldn’t you?
  • Buy a Vitamix and a Dehydrator and use them.
  • Read Paul Nison’s “Raw Food Formula for Health.”  Raw food makes you healthier and makes you feel better.
  • Question chemo. That’s all I gotta say about that.

I did a bunch of this stuff. I started right away and was really diligent as I awaited all my test results to find out if chemo was going to be recommended. I will never know if I would have chosen chemo or not but I was definitely prepared to defend myself against it.

Yeah, it’s a lot. And, yeah, it’s easy for me to sit here and type out a list of things for other people to do. It comes down to this – why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you want to feel better, look better, and be stronger and healthier? You are probably eating poison on a daily basis. You are feeding cancer cells with the crap in your cupboard, your fridge, your drive-thru’s. You are avoiding exercise that could help save your life. You want to wear a pink ribbon or do you want to actually affect a positive outcome practicing proven methodology that reduces cancer death probability? Seriously. Throw shit away and start being healthy.

LOVE PEACE GRATITUDE 4LIFE

 

I’m not really much of a pink ribbon girl, turns out…

I’m not really down with a lot of the traditional cancer hoopla. Personally, walks for hope and ribbons don’t make me feel better or stronger but rather like a distraction from the purposeful activities intended to reduce my risk of recurrence. Talking with others who have had or have breast cancer, on the other hand, does make me feel good because I want us to help each other stay positive and live life well. So does eating organic food, taking supplements, banning chemicals from my space, reducing stressors and the RSO I  take every night before sleep that makes me dream a little weird but helps to kill any loose cancer cells that may be floating around.

My point is, I don’t think that wearing a ribbon or a pink visor or an I Heart Boobies bracelet has any actual healing properties. It may incite a level of hope but, independent of action, that can be a dangerously ineffective proposition. When you’ve got cancer, pure hope is best left to the poets. Encouraging and empowering as it may seem, pink can’t replace the mindful, targeted actions that can affect positive outcomes. b59e6cf3e70fa491a93743ffd00ff584

I’ve heard it said that ‘the power of positive thinking’ is everything and I totally disagree. You can’t think your way out of cancer or any other health affliction any more than you can think your way to the perfect beach body by June. Fortunately though, things like proper diet, exercise, sleep and meditation will make you healthier and happier. It’s kind of like my Gold’s Gym key fob – totally worthless if I don’t leave the couch. My advice? Don’t rely on a color to get you through what is probably the greatest and most consequential period that you’ve ever gone through. Rather, supplement your swag with, for example, a big handful of kale in your organic smoothie and a walk in the park.