Cute Shoes (and a little story about excommunication from yoga)

I re-joined the gym.  The last time I was at the gym, I had breasts which were just days away from becoming a thing of the past.  Running on the treadmill those days prior to January 29, 2013, I had NO idea what the next 2 years would hold.  At that time, I was in really good shape — ideal weight, running a few times a week and practicing yoga at least 4 times a week.  I was strong, toned, fit.  Yoga was a HUGE part of my life.  The studio was my second home and my fellow yoginis were second family (also known as a kula).  Then the surgeries started, along with healing complications and a frozen shoulder, leaving me mostly sedentary and unable to do anything physical, including yoga, for the better part of a year & a half.

It’s often said that you will be surprised by the people who disappear when you get cancer.  It shocked me that it was my dear yoga kula that disappeared.  When I had my mastectomy, they sent flowers and cards, and that was really nice.  Following the mastectomy, I had 4 more surgeries and lots of complications, pain, anguish…you know.  During that time, two (I repeat, TWO) members of my yoga family kept in regular contact with me (by regular, I mean a text about once a month from one; the other does my hair, so I saw her frequently).  They would ask my husband how I was doing, so perhaps they thought that was the same as reaching out to me.  My “teacher” told me that the kula would be there when I was ready to come back.

I went back to yoga about 8 months or so ago, but it’s just not the same.  I jokingly tell other students not to get cancer, lest they be excommunicated from the kula.  I am angry at yoga.  By that I don’t mean I’m angry DURING yoga (although sometimes I am); I mean that I am angry AT yoga.  Who gets mad at yoga?  A couple weeks ago, I cut the cord and ended my studentship at this studio.  I felt a sense of relief.  Righteous relief.

As I walked out of that yoga studio for that last time, I didn’t have much of a plan in place…I still take a ballet class once a week, and there a couple of other yoga studios in town I will check out.  In the meantime, I realized I just need to get my body moving!  The other day I bought my new running shoes (really cute with hot pink laces) and re-joined my old gym.  And later that day, my little one and I went to the gym.  I deposited her in the kids’ center and then got on the elliptical machine.  Five minutes in, I thought I was going to die, but after that, it was glorious!  I’m not gonna lie…a lot of the time I was there I was thinking, “the last time I was here, I had breasts.”

When I started writing this post, I had no intention of discussing all the yoga stuff.  What I really wanted to say is that I re-joined the gym, and I got really cute running shoes.  And also, when my 8-year old saw me in my really cute running shoes, she said, “Mommy, you’re really working those shoes”.

Liberated

It’s been a while since my last post.  Things have gotten better and are, I daresay, GOOD!  I can move my arm again.  My mobility is severely compromised, which is frustrating, but it will get better over time and I can function normally.  Really, the biggest frustration is that I can’t participate fully in yoga.  Downdogs are uncomfortable, I can’t bear all of my weight on my right side and I can’t do push ups, handstands or any arm balances, and I can’t get my right arm flat to the floor in lying positions.  What huge problems to have, right?

I started taking ballet lessons a couple of weeks ago.  After over a year of taking my daughter to class and watching enviously and wishing I could get back to my dance roots, my husband took control and bought me a pair of ballet shoes and some private lessons for my birthday.  They are the nicest ballet shoes I’ve ever owned, and I have had so much fun rekindling my love affair with dance.

In July we took a family vacation on the beach, which caused me a bit of anxiety due to being breastless and needing to figure out what to wear to the beach. At this time last year I had tissue expanders so I at least had SOMETHING to put into a bikini top. I never would have imagined it would all go wrong and I’d be completely breastless this summer. Apparently, the Target swimsuit designers must have foreseen my predicament because they had bikini tops with material in the front to cover everything up, including all my dents and ridges. And, wouldn’t you know it, not a damn person was looking at my chest anyway. I’m finding that to be the case in most instances. I am really the only one thinking and obsessing about it.

I’ve been discharged from the plastic surgeon’s care.  At my last visit we discussed my re-reconstruction options (I had reconstruction after my mastectomy but radiation caused issues with healing and I had to have the implants removed).  Should I choose re-reconstruction, I would be looking at 3 surgeries (first to get tissue from my back because there is no longer enough tissue on the radiated side, a second surgery to put in tissue expanders, and a third to exchange tissue expanders for implants).  It will take a year.  Hmmmm…seems like I went down this road beginning  in January 2013 (just substitute bilateral mastectomy for back-flap surgery as the start of last year’s surgical journey).  It didn’t turn out so well for me.  After this last visit with my plastic surgeon, my attitude was that it’s something to consider, but nothing I could consider yet.  I still couldn’t imagine NOT having breasts (er, Breast Mounds), and figured I’d make a decision to do it in perhaps a year’s time after my body has fully recovered from all the trauma it’s already been through.   Recently, and I do mean recently – as in over the last couple of weeks – my attitude has changed.  I still can’t look at myself in the mirror without a shirt, but I am actually starting to feel okay about not pursuing re-reconstruction.  I am 99% sure I am not going to do it.  I don’t know what it was…one night I had a really big cry over not having breasts (the first really big cry I’ve had about this in a while) and the next day I was like, hmmmmm….do I really need to go through that crap again (not to mention what my family went through) just to have a couple of mounds full of scars, plus new scars on my back?  Not to mention the complications that could go along with 3 more surgeries.  Because I wasn’t sure if I’d want to try to re-reconstruct, my surgeon left the remaining tissue after he removed the implants, so it’s pretty messy looking what with scars and puckered skin and, ugh, it’s just icky and scary and unsightly to me.  I will at some point want to have the skin issue tidied up, but my understanding is that it is a pretty simple outpatient procedure.  So, at this point, I am set on learning to consider and love life breast-free.  Surprisingly, I feel liberated. Breast-free, cancer-free…I can dance to that.

Fear, Hope, and Gratitude

When I last wrote, I still had a lovely open wound.  It’s much better now, all closed up and covered with a lovely scar.  Unfortunately, during the hurting and healing process, I developed adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder (aka “frozen shoulder”).  This was the result of barely moving my arm for months — my chest hurt so badly from the incision/wound issue that I kept my arm bent in front of my chest , as if guarding it from further injury, plus I couldn’t stretch my arm out very far for fear of ripping the wound open even more.  Frozen shoulder hurts, a LOT, and it’s very inconvenient.  I could not move my arm up to shoulder level, and couldn’t move it to the side more than an inch or so.  Once I went back to work from the wound issue, I had to get up at 4:30 every morning so my husband could help me shower since I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to wash my hair) and tend to my wound.  I haven’t slept through the night for a long time as it is, but the shoulder/arm pain (did I mention it HURTS?!!!?) wakes me up every 2-3 hours or so for drugs and ice.  I ended up seeing an orthopedic surgeon and went under in April (5th time under anesthesia since last January) for shoulder manipulation.  I woke up in just about as much pain from this as I did from my mastectomy.  I gauge the immediate post-op pain level by my post-op blood pressure.  After the mastecomy, it was 190; with the shoulder manipulation, it was 150.  I thank the universe for inventing pain meds.  I still do not have full mobility and I still have a lot of pain, but thanks to the shoulder manipulation procedure, a lot of physical therapy, and regular massage, I’ve made a lot of improvement and can now perform normal tasks such as washing my own hair and cooking dinner.  Yesterday I even went to yoga, my first time in over 8 months.  Prior to breast cancer, yoga was a huge part of my life.  I went to class 3-4 times a week and I had a very strong practice.  Having to give that up because of my physical limitations has been very difficult for me.  I was terrified of going back yesterday.  I was afraid that I would be in over my head and would want (or need) to leave half way through class, or that I would injure my shoulder even worse (I did have clearance from my physical therapist to go, by the way), or that others would be staring at my breastless chest (how silly to think I’d be judged by my felow yoginis!).  Most of all, I was afraid that I would feel sad and discouraged about how much I’ve lost in the way of physical abilities.  But, with the support of my husband (my yoga partner), I went with the attitude that I would do what I could and if I had to take child’s pose for half the class, that’s what I would do.  And it felt good to go back!  I couldn’t hold my warriors for as long as I used to, and I had to do chatturangas on my knees, I couldn’t stretch my right arm all the way up or to the side, and certainly no backbends or handstands, but I made it through class.  For sure I am sad that I can’t do all the things I used to do, but I’m not obsessed with it and I’m not discouraged, which is how I was afraid I would feel.  Rather, I feel proud that I made it back to class sooner than I thought I would and I made it through.  I feel good knowing I can do it, and even though it feels like I’m starting almost from scratch, I can do it.

One of the things I have been struggling with the most in these last couple months is fatigue.  I can barely stay awake past 7:00 p.m.  It’s very frustrating and it’s actually a little painful to feel so tired.  Occasionally when I’m trying to fake it (as in pretending I’m not tired because I feel guilty for not being able to participate or be fully engaged with my family at night), I just disappear to the bathroom for a few minutes to have a good cry.  It doesn’t give me any energy, but it feels good.  I keep hoping this will eventually get better, and I’m thinking that getting back to doing something physical (i.e., yoga) will help.  I’m so lucky to have a husband who picks up all the slack for me.  At night after work, he will recognize when I’m tired and tell me to go to bed, even if it is only 7:30.  He makes sure the girls have their baths and snacks and that they get to bed on time, that the dog goes out before bed and the house gets all locked up.  On the weekends, he will tell me to take a nap in the afternoon while he takes care of the laundry and whatever else needs taking care of.  He really is an amazing man.  Tomorrow is our 12-year anniversary, and I have to say I hit the lotto with this man.

One other thing that is concerning me is the results of my recent bloodwork.  I studied my lab results and compared the changes over the last year, and my tumor markers have gone up each time.  I saw my oncologist on Wednesday and he says that they are still well within the normal limits, so he isn’t concerned.  The question I didn’t think to ask, but now can’t stop wondering, is…if I am cancer-free, shouldn’t that number be a big, fat ZERO?  If the range is 0-38, and mine is a 19, does that mean I’m half-way to having cancer again?  Also, my white blood cell count is low, lower than the low end of normal.  Again, he didn’t seem too concerned, just said maybe I was sick the day I had my blood drawn and just didn’t know it.  I can’t help but worry a bit, and I do wonder if that’s why I’ve felt so fatigued.  Perhaps I’m making a broad generalization here, but as anyone who’s had cancer knows, these are the kinds of things that can make a girl lose sleep.

I see my plastic surgeon this week and will of course ask him if trying reconstruction again is going to be an option.  I wouldn’t do it anytime soon, but I do need to know if it’s something I can consider.  I thought I’d be okay with a breastless chest, and I am getting a little less self-conscious about it, but I still can’t look in the mirror, and I miss the femininity of those little lumps underneath a shirt or inside a bikini top.

So, I do have some fear – fear that I am not well, fear that I’ll be stuck with this icky looking chest forever, fear that I am never going to feel good again.  But I also have hope — hope that I’m going to feel better and stronger as time goes on.  Mostly, I have gratitude – for my health (despite feeling crappy a lot of the time), and for my amazing husband, family, and friends.

A Toxic and Spiritual Disease

I have a friend who beat breast cancer over 5 years ago (she is, unfortunately, dealing with recurrence right now).  The weekend before my first reconstructive surgery, she invited me to her home to chat, during which time she stated that she considered her breast cancer to have been a gift, one of the best things that ever happened to her — it had given her the opportunity to evaluate her life and make changes to be better and happier.  (I’ve heard that sentiment from many people and I am waiting for the day I will feel this.)

But then she said the weirdest thing to me.  She said that she thought of her cancer as a spiritual disease. Huh? We met in yoga, we are of the same kula. I’d been a dedicated yoga student for over three years; I could ROCK the chatturanga push-ups and had mastered several pretty sweet hand balances.  I said “om” and “namaste”.  All that shit felt great and spiritual.  How in the hell could cancer also be “spiritual”?  She elaborated, but it made no sense. That was five months ago. I’ve frequently rolled those words around in my brain since then, still wondering what she meant, figuring I must be a really crappy yogini if I couldn’t find something spiritual about this disease.  This weekend, I finally grasped what she meant.

I have struggled with anxiety and anger on and off for the past several years, mostly triggered by issues related to my stepchildren, my husband’s ex-wife, and a certain female whom I have recently realized I need to cut completely out of my life.  My stepkids and their mother have been the cause of an unimaginable, extraordinary amount of chaos, drama, and anxiety in my life and my marriage for the past 12 years.  I’m not talking about the normal blended family challenges.  I’m talking about the Jerry Springer kind of drama; the holy-shit-people-really-do-that-kind-of-fucked-up-shit kind of drama.   The kind of drama that made me want to hide in a locked room with my own little girls to shield them from all the insanity and chaos.  Things that caused my husband and I to fight a lot and drift apart (though we have mostly found our way back to each other.)   The aforementioned “certain female” has also caused me considerable angst and contributed to further erosion of my marriage over the past three years.  The anger waxes and wanes, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it at bay for the most part.   But the anger I have felt has, at times, owned me.  Really, truly been the boss of me – dictating whether I will sleep or if I am going to be pleasant towards my husband and children; forcing me down very ugly paths full of ill tempers and hatred, eventually leading to shame and self-hatred. It has been toxic.

Anger has been taking over my head and my heart a lot lately.  I’m not sleeping well, I lash out at my husband for grievances of 3, 5, 8 years ago, I have a general feeling of discontent and anxiety.  I suppose I have reasons to be angry.  I was diagnosed with cancer this year.  My mom died of cancer this year.  My stepkids did this, that and the other.  This other certain female did what she did.  Etcetera.  I feel like I am vulnerable to becoming a slave to the negative emotion again.

I am forever trying to figure out why I got cancer.  I read labels with fervor, I avoid chemicals, I am vegetarian, I eat natural, organic foods, blah blah blah.  But it hit me this weekend that getting cancer had nothing to do with not eating, drinking, inhaling, or otherwise consuming cancer-causing chemicals.  I was toxic enough already: I had allowed my body to be a vessel for all of this toxic emotion.  Apparently, I wasn’t doing a very good job at following a spiritual, yogic path.  And now I realize that and it’s time to find a new path.  I am going to be the boss of my emotions; I am not going to allow toxic people into my life or my head; and I am going to stop blaming them and the past for causing the problems I am facing today.

Namaste.