Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles: Volume Seven

After soup, sleep, and antibiotics, this weekend I finally worked up enough energy to set my house in order to receive loved ones who will be here to help for surgery and recovery. Preparing my home to become a place of sanctuary and healing had been weighing heavily on my mind, beneath all of the really big stuff, from the time I found out that The Big C would require a calling-in of the cavalry. Of course I am well aware that no one would actually come into my house to help me and say (or even think), "I can't believe she didn't even vacuum the office!" Or, "I know just the thing to get those rust stains out of your toilet."  Go ahead, laugh at that last one, but there is precedent. Bless her heart, my late grandmother was kind enough to offer that tidbit of wisdom to my mother (and our houseful of twenty-plus people) at full voice one particularly memorable holiday. I can't make this stuff up. Seriously. So you can see why I might worry about the thick coating of dust "protecting" the blades of my living room ceiling fan. Right? Right. (But if you are good on a tall ladder cleaning ceiling fan blades, I seriously need you. Call me. Thanks!)

I digress before I have even begun. Shocker! Welcome to the cacophonous maelstrom of voices jockeying for position in my head.

In all seriousness, the struggle this week has been to find a way to manage all of the appointments, insurance calls, paperwork, pre-op, pharmacy, sleep, food, meditation, yoga, work, planning, and preparation for all possibilities while still maintaining the "stress-free environment" insisted upon by Dr. Rock Star. I laughed out loud when he said, "No stress," to me with a straight face. I thought he was kidding. I have since learned that he was not all. Who knew? So, once again, I have come face to face with my own limitations. And, to be clear, I am not a fan. Today I had to retreat, give up the idea of working normally until the day of the surgery, and go home. I know talked a great game last week about being set up to work from home, but I didn't want to actually need to work from home. I wanted to, once again, be able to do it all. I learned, once again, that I cannot. Excellent, eager, exceptionally capable people are in place to do the parts of my job that need to be managed in my absence. I need to let them. I will let them. I will do what I can do, but know that all will be well. I am so very grateful and so very lucky.

I am told that I have one job right now: to fight. I am told that by others. I am learning to tell myself. I know, and am constantly reminded, that I am a fighter. Unfortunately it appears that I have been fighting against only myself. This is never a good idea. No matter how I win that fight, I lose.

Tonight, after I hit Publish, I will hit the yoga mat, like I do every night. But tonight, rather than fighting to find the Yin Yoga poses of release, I will exhale deeply and surrender. Within the surrender the chaos will quiet. Within the surrender the stillness will be found. Within the surrender, the kind, gentle, loving voice of my soul will be heard. Within the surrender the strength that I need for this battle will be found. Within the surrender the victory will be realized.

Rest well, my friends. Find your surrender. Find your stillness. Find your light. The light in me honours the light in you.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles: Volume Six, Because sometimes breast cancer just isn't enough...

I woke up yesterday with a searing sore throat. Usually I just suck it up and wait three weeks or so, until I feel like I'd have to get better to die, to go to the doctor. Not this time. My surgery is fourteen days from today, and if I am sick, it won't happen. Unacceptable.

So I went to my regular doctor today, aching all over, throat worse, and head starting to feel full and hot. Try to contain your shock when I say that I have a sinus infection. Welcome to my life. The good news is that I can take the same antibiotics that I will get for pre and post-up, I'll just be on them ten days longer than planned.

I came home and slept for four or five hours AGAIN! Then I got us, had some magic soup, took my meds, and can already barely keep my eyes open.

So thankful for the white tea that arrived today to fill me with antioxidants. Thank you to my college friend who was so very thoughtful. It is making my throat feel better for sure.

Be kind, be well, be rested, and be restored. Our job is to leave the world a better place that it was when we got here. We can do that one breath, one positive thought, one act of kindness at a time.


(Too sleepy to go back and proof this again, so please forgive any typos.)

More peace.

The Breast Cancer Chronicles : Volume Five, The Roller Coaster Continues

I think the things that are challenging me the most right now are my own expectations. I feel like I should be able to get everything done that I want to do, when I want to do it. I feel like I should be able to do my job by myself, without asking for help. I feel like I should be able to handle all of the doctors' visits, and paperwork, and testing, and scheduling, and meds on my own, without needing to be reminded. I feel like I should be able to go to sleep when I go to bed, and wake up with my first alarm and live my life as usual. I feel like I should be able to handle two big, energetic, crazy dogs and a neurotic cat on my own... But I can't. That is the reality that has smacked me square in the face, over and over again today. I can't do it all on my own. I HATE THAT.

I love that I have friends and family who want to help. I appreciate that more than I have words to express. I know that I Need that help, but I don't Like that I need that help. I don't like putting an extra burden on other people. I like taking care of other people. I am so uncomfortable with the shoe on the other foot. But I know that learning to walk in these uncomfortable shoes is part of my lesson in this journey. (If those shoes could have red soles toward the end of the journey, that would make it easier to handle.)

I read somewhere that the greatest way we can  show our love for others is by allowing them to help us. Well, if this is true, I must seriously suck at showing love for others! OR maybe this is the first time that I really have the chance to show all of those who have asked to help just how much I do love them. That must be it! This is my chance to show that I love everyone enough to Ask for help. Now if I can figure out what shape that help should take, I'll be one step closer to making it happen.

Thank you to everyone who has asked how to help. I am working on figuring that out, but will put it into words as soon as I do.

At work, my colleagues have gone out of their way to take things off my plate, and for this I am grateful beyond words. Working from home for some of my more challenging times has also become an option. For this I am grateful. Hugs, tissues, pep talks, ears, and shoulders appeared today just when I needed them. For this I am grateful.

Tonight we honored the birth of Middle Sister. For this, I am grateful. To have her home, even for a little while, is a tonic to my soul. For this I am grateful. Tonight I learned that Baby Sis and Monster will be home to help me through the surgery and recovery. For this I am grateful. Tonight I am warm, safe, and surrounded by healing energy. For this, I am grateful.

Be well, my friends and know that, for each of you, I am grateful.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles: Volume Four

So yesterday happened. And it was a rough one. And then I slept for four hours, got up, organized the kitchen cabinets, did some yoga and went back to bed.

And then the cat woke me at 3:00 AM and peed on the floor. Immediately I decided he was in full-on kidney failure. I was a wreck again. And then I bleached the floor.

I tried to go back to sleep. #fail
I tried journaling. #fail
I tried mindful meditation. #fail
I tried stretching. #fail
It was shaping up to be a great morning to go back to work!

But go back to work I did. Not as early as I had hoped, but I got there safely. Many other people around the world never made it to work today.
And then my day became about gratitude.

I am grateful that I made it safely to and from work today.
I am grateful that I was greeted with smiles, hugs, love, and support at work when so many others are miserable in their jobs.
I am grateful that the first thing the vet did was give me a hug when he came into the room because he knew I was scared.
I am grateful that I spent a surprise evening with Mom and Dad, floating in the pool, eating, laughing, and listening to amazing music when so many others are away from those they love in one way or another.

I am so grateful to realize how incredible my life is. I am surrounded by everything I need to get through each day. I have been taught to find the strength I need to get through anything. I have been taught to ask for help. I have been taught to look for the good in people, even when they try to show me something else. I don't always see it, but I always know it exists.

Thank you to everyone who called, texted, messaged, emailed, hugged, gifted, laughed, sent prayers, sent positive energy, thoughts, strength, and healing my way today. You each reinforced for me how much we have to take care of each other. We all need love. We all need to belong. We all need to heal.

Tonight I go to bed chlorine-soaked, skin shriveled, belly full, heart warm, and soul at peace.

Love and celebrate each other with every breath.

Gloves up!


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles: Volume Three

Trying so very hard to put this day into words, and really struggling. As much as I hate to admit it, I let this day send me into fetal position (the very day after I said I wouldn't do that for lmore than a few minutes!) where I slept all afternoon and allowed my brain to rest and process.

Nothing has changed, except that I learned today how much harder this was going to be than I wanted to believe.  Notice the word "wanted" in there. I knew it was going to be awful. I knew it was going to hurt like Hell and have a long recovery process, but I didn't realize just how long and how involved a double mastectomy with reconstruction really is. 

In my perfect dream world, I wake up from the surgery, cancer and pain free, with a perfect new set of breasts that are complete and need nothing else. I've also lost fifty pounds, my hair and make-up are so perfect that I could be on a movie set. I LOVE that world... In the real world, I wake up with expanders in my chest, that will be injected with saline every week until they reach the right size and shape. Meanwhile I am taking chemo regularly and going bald. THEN, well after any chemo has ended, there is another surgery to put the actual implants in place. 

In my head it went: surgery - back to work the next week - chemo - shave head - life and work as usual - cured forever! Celebrate!  In the real world it goes more like: surgery - recover from surgery - chemo - next surgery - recover from next surgery - cured - back to life as usual.  I am sure that work and home life are in there at regular internvals, but I don't know when, where, or how. 

I am scared, really scared, of how long the recovery part of this usually takes. I wanted to be Superwoman. I wanted to be the one who could take all of this while still managing work, taking care of two big, energetic dogs and a cat, doing yoga every day and setting the world on fire. Instead, I found out I am just a regular person. But a very lucky one who has a fierce army surrounding her on all sides. 

I had mountains of insurance paperwork and planning to do today, but instead I collapsed into bed and slept there for four hours. I bet even Superwoman has to nap too sometimes. I bet every woman and man who has fought this fight has been exhausted sometimes. But after we rest, we get back up, put our gloves up, and fight on until we win. 

One of my amazing survivor friends was with me and Mom at the plastic surgeon's today. She said something that I have heard in different ways several time of late. This time, it really seemed to get in my head. "You are going to feel everything on this journey, scared, angry, sad, hopeful, hopeless, happy, and even like giving up sometimes. Allow yourself to feel all of those things without judging them. Feel them and let them go." I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I heard it, and I listened this time. 

Today was one of those terrified, yet hopeful days. I was discouraged, but I knew it wouldn't last. Sleep helped. Writing this blog helped. An anonymous gift of a mantraband that said, "Never Give Up' arrived, and that helped. If you are the one who sent it to me, thank you. I will never give up. I will fight every minute of every day I have, even in the minutes when I am sleeping, I am preparing for the fight. 

I can do this. I will do this. I appreciate all of you for your support and encouragement. Together we are strong. 

Peace and love.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Breast Cancer Chronicles: Volume One

Well, my friends, a new challenge lies ahead, and I hope you'll indulge me as I work through this one with my rantings and my art.  

On Monday,  I was officially diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Grade Three. This is the most common form of breast cancer diagnosed today. Unfortunately that doesn't make it any less serious. 

I was lucky enough to be sitting in my counselor's office, concluding a session where we talked about how I likely had breast cancer. We talked about all of the love and support that I have, and that I had a really great attitude about it, looking to find the positive in everything. I was picking up my bag to leave when my phone rang. I took the call and heard it in the doctor's voice before I ever heard the words, "You have breast cancer." I listened. I took notes. I asked questions for clarification. I thanked the doctor and told him that I knew he had saved the lives of many of my friends and would save mine, too.  No pressure. I laughed. I hung up. I said the words out loud for the first time, there with my counselor, "I have breast cancer." I said it again. And then I dissolved into a puddle of tears. I was so hoping to be wrong. I was not wrong. I knew when I first felt the lump a week and a half ago. I knew. 

Four of the words that every woman most dreads hearing are, "You have breast cancer."  "We have to talk," is a close second, and "It's not you...Really," are in close contention, but, "You have breast cancer," pretty much takes the cake. Like so many other strong, brave women (and men) now I have  heard them.  I have also said, "I have breast cancer," out loud, over and over, so I can almost always do it without crying.  Almost. Yes, this is serious. Yes, I am scared. Yes, I am prepared to fight like hell and beat this effing disease.

And so, gloves laced on, the fight begins...

I have amazing friends and family who did all they could to keep me entertained, distracted, and fed through the weekend. I have a job and work family that are allowing me to take the time I need to do whatever is needed to defeat this beast. I have laughed and cried more in the last week than I have in a long time. That is good medicine. 

YesterdayI had an MRI in which I was placed face-down, arms outstretched for flying into what can best be described asa milking machine position.  Having had MRI's of several other parts through the years, all done lying on my back, imagine my surprise when told that those holes were for my "girls"! A regular MRI is loud and cramped, but not particularly uncomfortable. A post-breast-biopsy MRI is far less pleasant for sure. That said, the staff and the facility were amazing.  They did everything possible to keep me calm and comfortable. No small feat, I promise you. 

Tomorrow we meet with the surgeon to find out how far the disease has progressed and make plans for surgery and treatment.   

I have breast cancer. It will not have me.

I am strong. I am determined. I am surrounded by warriors. My mother battled an "incurable" autoimmune disease and today is, in fact, cured. My father and grandfather kicked kidney cancer in the soft parts. The daughter I never had beat the pants off leukemia. The list goes on and on, so how could I do anything but fight like hell?  My young friend, Lindsey Rose, coined the phrase, "Do whatcha gotta do," when she faced her battle. It worked for her, and it will certainly work for me.
I gave Mom this boxing glove necklace when she was diagnosed with Systemic Schleroderma to remind her to fight that "incurable" disease. Today she is cured, and yesterday she gave it to me to remind me to fight my battle now. Gloves up!  I'm coming out swinging! Love you, Mom!
I am still the luckiest woman I know. The outpouring of love and support that I have already received is humbling, overwhelming, and appreciated more than I will ever find the words to express. It is amazing how kind people can be. Thank you all. My team is strong and mighty. We are tireless and relentless in our pursuit of healing. I have been well prepared to stay strong, to stay focused, to stay positive, and to get back up every time I fall.

Thank you for being my people. Thank you for helping me to stay strong, to fight, and to win. Thank you.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Joining the Hyster Sisters

For the last ten days I have been trying to figure out how to share what is going on in my world right now because I need all of the healing energy I can get.  Most of the time, I am so busy telling myself that it isn't going to be any big deal that I don't have time to think about the fact that it IS kind of a big deal. I wish it felt like a better one. 

One week from Tuesday, on August 5th, I will join the noble ranks of the  "Hyster Sisters," when I have a hysterectomy of my very own.  (Cue the fireworks!). Again, I keep telling myself that it is nothing. Millions of women have them every day, many of whom are very close to me. They are all fine. I should be, too. Right? 

I am making To Do lists, making lists for my lists, checking things off, and adding new things to my lists at breakneck speed.  I am exhausted! But the minute my heads hits the pillow, my brain kicks into overdrive and I have to listen to the Buddhify meditation app over and over just to get to sleep.

My dreams have been ridiculous! I remember them when I first wake up, but they are so bizarre and disturbing that I'm pretty sure I am blocking them out completely within the first hour after opening my eyes. It is so loud in my head!   Does this happen to everyone?  Does it ever stop?

They tell me my recovery depends on many things, including whether or not it is laparoscopic, traditional cut, or a combination. That could mean anywhere from two weeks to two months or so!  I am a teacher. School starts for me eight days after the surgery, and the kids return exactly two weeks after the surgery.  This is one of my biggest worries.  I know that my school family is supporting me through this, and they will do all they can to help, but what do I do about not being there when the kids start?  How will that work? How do I prepare someone else to start the year with my kids in just a few days? I have so much that I want to do with them... I have so much that I want to do. Period.  The important stuff will get done, right? It always does, right?  All will be well, right?  Those are the things I have saying to other people for years. Why is it so hard for me to listen to it when I say it to myself now?

Hyster Sisters out there, have you wisdom to offer on this subject?  Thoughts from anyone would be most welcome. I am trying so hard to be calm, Zen, and accepting of this change.  But, good gracious, it is hard in the quiet moments!  At least I finally wrote some of it out of my head.  Now I need to go make another list.

Peace, love, and light.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Day Three

"Longing for Gravity

You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?"

If I left Earth, never to return, what would I miss most about it?  I would miss the air, the water, the fire, and the earth.  Driving with the top down, the sun just warm enough on my face, and the wind rushing over my skin.  The sound and sight of the surf moving, waves kissing the beach, or water giggling over rocks in the creek, and the feel of it tickling my toes before I plunge, head first, into the surf.  Being outside is my oxygen.  I can breathe in freely, deeply, and openly, suddenly overwhelmed with the (mostly) beautiful smells held in nature.  

I am renewed when I step outside, away from my desk, my chair, my kitchen.  I am strengthen and energized. I am now reminded to take more time to go outside.  Mars trip or not, I miss the wind, the water, the fire (light), and the earth.  I miss the balance that the four elements offer me when I take time to accept their gifts.  I need to step outside now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day Two

"Unsafe Containers"

"Which emotion(s) — joy, envy, rage, pity, or something else — do you find to be the hardest to contain?""

I have to be honest, I was not a fan of this prompt at first.  It frustrated me that an answer didn't immediately spring to mind.  In fact, I fought against every possible answer that popped into my head. I didn't want to do it.  But the whole point of a challenge is to, well, challenge oneself, so I decided to examine my reluctance more closely.

Which emotions do I find the hardest to contain?  After chewing on this for a while, I realized why I had been so reluctant to touch it.  I find ALL of them diffficult to contain.  When I am happy, everyone knows it.  I will tell total strangers how amazing everything is.  I feel like I am exploding  with joy, so I have to share it.  The same, I have found, is true when I am unhappy.  Whether it is sadness, frustration, or anger.  On me there is no hiding it.  

Through my students this year (middle school girls) I have learned that I actually wear the way that I feel in the way that I dress.  I was stunned by this realization.  I am a pretty happy person, and I typically dress for work in bright, vibrant colors, putting together accesroies that will add just the right pop of color.  I came in to school one day wearing khakis and a grey shirt, and my girls thought something awful had happened.  I was mindboggled.  I was just having kind of a blah day, a little down, but nothing earth-shattering.  I was told, in no uncertain terms, by my girls that I should never dress like that again unless something was really wrong because it scared them.  I have worn black to work twice since then, first when we lost Nelson Mandela, and more recently when my very dear friend lost his mother.  Both times I explained to the girls the reason behind my choices, and they understood that grief sometimes comes in darkness, and it is okay to feel that pain.

It seems that even when I don't mean to, when I don't think I am wearing my emotions on my face, I am wearing them on my body.  So it seems that the "unsafe container" is me.  I feel everything, and I show it.  I'm fine with that, and don't consider it unsafe at all.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Day One

The challenge today is to just write, whatever comes to mind, just write freely for twenty minutes, then publish what you have written.  I have my students do this all the time.we call it "Clearing the Clutter" and it always seems to help them immensely.  I, however, rarely participate. Today that changes. This is the start of another new habit for me, on this day of firsts. 
took my first yoga clas today at the most beautiful, relaxing, inspiring studio called The Lotus Pond. It is a lovely log cabin on a pond with a little waterfall in it.  What could be more relaxing? I am painting tonight in one of my mom's classes with a dear friend.  That should be fun.  I always enjoy my mom's classes. Wine, music, Mom, a paint brush and a canvas, what's not to love? And I am also starting a thirty day blogging challenge today.  I haven't posted to the blog since the fall, so that changes today, too.  So far, I love this day!
We are in the middle of The Great Purge of 2014 here, so if I don't need it, use it, or love it, it is out the door! The goal is for everything to have a place, a home, somewhere it belongs in the house.  Closet is already done: two garbage bags full of clothes for donation, and two garbage bags full of shoes to donate.  Still need to do bags, but there is time.  Books have been collected from the overflowing bookshelves and only the essentials were kept.  The ones we released went to gain credit at the used book story so I can continue building my classroom library, and the rest were donated to the Hospice thrift store.
Busy seems to be the name of the game. I picked out a yoga class for every day this week, then I have things going on every afternoon and evening.  People to see, celebrations to enjoy, work to do.  It has long been my practice to put all of those things ahead of taking care of myself, but no more.  I realize that if I always feel awful, I am of no help to anyone.  I will find time for yoga classes.  I may even work in time at the gym.  Wouldn't that be crazy? It is just time to feel better and focus on wellness.  I have had a headache or migraine almost every day for at least the last month.  Now we work on changing that.  It is time.  This is the time to do one thing for myself every day.  That will be my yoga class. 
We have seen so much loss this year, dear friends, parents of dear friends, spouses of dear friends, it is time to grab life by the shoulders and make the most of every day.  It is crazy how quickly it can all be gone.  I want to do whatever it takes to be healthy enough to stick round for the long haul.
My sweetheart and I celebrated eight years together last night.  Eight more will not be nearly enough.  We talked at dinner last night about what have been the best things, most surprising things, and most enjoyable things in the last eight years.  What is all comes down to is that we both feel so damn lucky to have found each other.  Have the last eight years looked like I expected them to? Not even close, but that have looked outstanding! I wouldn't trade a minute of them.
So now we begin the next phase with ridding ourselves of clutter, making time to reenergize, and to reflect every day.  But we do this one day at a time.
That's twenty minutes of writing! Wow, the kids are right, it helps a lot!
Peace and Namaste.