the slush is melting, and yoga is being made

The slush is melting. A reminder of the snow that brought such mixed feelings to so many people, from exaltation to revulsion to dread. For me, being the Gemini that I am, each moment held a different feeling. I had moments of absolute giddiness, joy and hope and others when I wanted to hide in a corner sucking on a bottle of wine or run like a lunatic screaming profanity….But regardless of what was happening outside (with the weather) or inside (with my emotions), I bundled up and ventured out to be in it. I wanted to experience the snow and ice and slush- to breathe in the elements and be in the land of the living.

In my snow adventures I was often surrounded by people- a mixture of people of all ages romping and playing as people often do when it snows in Seattle (which is rare). I walked in areas of my neighborhood that I rarely visit, and I smiled at people I most likely ignore on any other given day. This is what snow does for me- it helps to bring the introvert out so that I can look people in the eyes and begin a brief dialogue. It also…brings out the worst in me. The angry me who gets frustrated by people who refuse to give space for me to walk past them on the sidewalk and the me who frets about the homeless, the flooding, and the power outages. I obsess. I ruminate. I “kvetch”. And there’s no rhyme or reason. I’m downright unpredictable and crazed.

Metaphorically, the storm and my ensuing moods related to change in my life are like my experience of cancer. I had moments of insight and recognition of luminous beauty mixed with times when I wanted to scratch incessantly at an itch that never existed. And this is where my yoga practice so beautifully comes in. I can once again feel pain without having to own it as something that will never go away. I can be in the experience of joy or pain or itchiness and trust that this is just this moment. My truth does not have to be dictated by this discomfort or this elation. And when I freak out, I can look at that as another opportunity to learn. Which seems never ending…

Lately, I delight in thinking about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.1 (that’s right- the very first sutra)- Atha Yogānuśāsanam, or something like “now begins the exposition of yoga”. Even in the slush, yoga is being made.

still standing…one year post diagnosis

The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis passed with little to no fanfare, despite the fact that I spent a good portion of the day reminiscing over the past year and looking at the photos of myself nervously posing topless on the beach. July, 2008 will most likely always be a time that I will be able to recall and to react to on a visceral level. I can bring up the smells and sounds of the day I was diagnosed, but I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday. Probably an exaggeration, but not far off…

I can remember distinctly the feeling I had when the radiologist called me personally to tell me that I should contact a medical oncologist and a surgeon right away. I told him that I would begin the process on Monday, as it was Friday afternoon, and he urged me to begin making calls as soon as I hung up with him. I was stunned and distracted, thinking that I couldn’t possibly have such a diagnosis, and that if I did, in fact, have breast cancer, that I had no time for it. I thanked him for being so kind as to call me personally, and he asked several times if I was going to be alright. I wanted to ask him the same question. I had no idea what the future held. I still don’t. But I knew at the time that I had resolve and that I was going to begin the process of healing before people saw me as sick.

Now, a year later, I am still a bit stunned at the magnitude of it all, but I am also quite amazed at how naturally life takes on a new normal. At this point, I’m used to periodic infusions and scans, and dressing to hide my scars and the port that remains until I finish treatments. I am usually careful about what I put into, onto, and around my body, and I am skeptical of more than I ever was before. I recognize bullshit from a mile away.

My body is still not back to the vibrant and energetic state that it was at last summer, and I question whether it ever will be. Cancer has in some ways motivated me, and in others, has taught me to respect the fact that perfection is overrated and unobtainable. It’s ok to slow down and to enjoy sitting in the garden sometimes, even if it’s been days since my heart has experienced aerobic exercise.

Although I’m still working full time and I’m back to taking a full course load at school, I no longer feel the necessity to keep up a frenzied pace. I don’t have the capacity for the stress that I had before, and I recognize the importance of enjoying the ride and learning along the way. I want to feel into my days and to experience each moment for what it is rather than racing through to see how much I can accomplish.

Even the mirror reflects my changing self, complete with my short, curly hair, which is filling in quite nicely. I still admittedly feel like I look like an adolescent boy on occasion due to my lack of a chest, but I attempt to radiate my sassy feminine qualities, and to remember that my scars are proof of what I’m capable of; a badge of honor. Imperfection is a sign of strength and uniqueness, and in some ways, my differences give me more courage than I’ve had before. Like a warrior, I have gained clarity through my experience

boobs not bombs

It’s been nearly 2 months since I had my final chemo infusion, and since that time life has attempted to take on a new normal. Despite the fact that I have had 2 Herceptin infusions and an EKG, I rarely think about treatment. I do, however, think about cancer nearly every day. I think about the fact that the anniversary of me finding the lump is coming up, and the fact that I continue to struggle to recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I also consider the fears that cancer can bring up in other people, and the reality that it will follow me the rest of my life (as in, I am now officially a risk to insurance providers). On the positive side, I am beginning to witness the growth of my nails, with new healthy pink starts. My hair is finally getting fuller, and for the first time since beginning chemo, I luxuriated in a bath and shaved my legs. These small gifts do not go unrecognized- the gifts of newness and health, of hope and regeneration.

I continue my struggles believing in Western medicine, procrastinating the day that I will begin the Tamoxifen, which is supposed to lessen my risk of a recurrence. I hate the idea of more side effects. My energy level is increasing, the hot flashes have subsided, and my taste buds are on fire! Thinking about taking a medicine that could hamper my “normal” infuriates me. Though not as much as thinking about the fact that my body has failed me. Not a day goes by when I don’t consider how I could have avoided cancer, or how I can reduce my chances now, but it wouldn’t be in my nature not to question whatever would be considered authority.

Today, my family is walking in the Spokane Breast Cancer Walk in my honor. I envision a sea of pink shirts and baseball caps, thousands of pink ribbons, tears, and laughter. I never would have expected to be so moved by such a gesture, considering the fact that I continue to be annoyed by pink ribbons, however I am touched by the idea that my cancer has made people in my life think about other people’s cancer- that there will be more money toward funding research, and that the women that I care about will think about breast self-examinations and mammograms. So- a big cheer for my family, and for everyone who walks to honor anything. It’s not just breast cancer that we’re fighting for, but equality in healthcare. Until we have that, those stinking pink ribbons will be everywhere as a reminder that women are dying every day from a very diagnosable and treatable disease. So- “BOOBS NOT BOMBS”! Get those walking shoes on, and join me in Seattle on June 7th, where I intend to run, not walk, the 5k and to smile every step of the way in honor of the truly miraculous people who have supported me every step of the way since I was diagnosed.

the not-so-naked truth

I stood on the deck of the ferry today and stuck my head out into the cold wind just to feel the rain against my cheeks. I had every expectation that I should be blessed with an orca sighting, which didn’t happen, though I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of the wind whipping salty water at me as I took in the sights of the San Juan islands. It seemed fitting that my first weekend without chemo would would be one filled with icy rain, wind, and a power outage. Because of the extreme weather, Irene and I were forced to rest more and to think of creative ways to enjoy our celebratory weekend on Orcas Island. It was fantastic.

Doe Bay Resort was a good place to land as we marked our first official infusion free Friday. The  sun was actually shining at the very time I would have been receiving my chemotherapy a week before, and I honored that moment by bowing toward the water and smiling at the sky. I didn’t feel any need for more than that- just a simple acknowledgement of my gratitude for the end of one leg of my journey. We then checked in and made house in the cutest little cabin we could have hoped for. Our cabin, “Churi”, was nessled under some trees and sat just above a meadow where we were graced by the presence of a local cat and a heard of deer. It was perfect.

Saturday, the day of the soon to be infamous Orcas Island power outage, Irene and I braved the elements to hike in the muddy but gorgeous Moran State Park. When we returned to the cabin (which had power by this time), I decided I was ready to exerience the soaking tubs and sauna while Irene napped. I packed my bag with 2 towels and a bottle of water and made my way through the meadow to the tubs. My hope was that the stormy weather would keep most people in their cozy cabins. Even so, I believed I could be open and loving toward my body and that I was ready to sit in the hot mineral water regardless of who was there. When I arrived, the tubs were filled with young naked couples. Undaunted (yet), I prudishly undressed in the shower, and wrapped my towel (tightly) around my very flat chest (or lack thereof). I walked within 2 feet of the tubs and all of my courage melted. I made a beeline for the sauna in hopes that it would be empty. When I walked in, there was a young naked man sitting in a meditative lotus posture on his towel. I sat as far away from him as I could and decided that I would make the best of my experience by resting in the heat. As I sat there, I realized that I was (am) not even close to being ready to exposing my scars in public. I had no idea what a visceral reaction I would have to being around whole bodied people enjoying an evening of nude bliss, and it was painful to recognize what I can only describe as envy for their wholeness and grief for what I am so obviously lacking.

To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have been prepared to sit in a tub with naked strangers prior to my surgery. My hope was that I had become wiser and emotionally stronger since surgery and undergoing five months of chemotherapy. I truly believed that I had come to a place where I didn’t care what other people thought of my appearance, and that I could be a beautiful representation of a self confident breast cancer survivor. I also hoped that I could return home from our weekend at Doe Bay victorious in my bravery. Despite the fact that I couldn’t disrope to enter the tubs, I still feel strong and beautiful. And victorious.

poster child

I had the strangest feeling after my fifteenth chemo infusion- a feeling similar to being on dry land after a day of boating. Standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I sensed that I was still connected to the tubes and equipment that hold the bags of chemotherapy medications. When I moved, I had the vision of tubing coming from my chest, and I had the urge to wheel the infusion pole beside me. I made my way to bed and curled up in an exhausted heap, thankful that I’m nearly finished with this routine. I woke up unattached to any medical equipment, but with a lingering reminder that I have three infusions in the near future.

Maybe the fact that I’ve finally re-entered a structured yoga class is helping me with the mind-body connection, and this episode was a wakening of my senses. Or maybe it was a reminder that this cancer treatment experience will continue to be with me, even when I’m not connected to tubes. Either way, it was a freaky sensation, and it was a reminder that I hold every detail of this process in my body- every bit of what I’ve been through leaves an imprint, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.

On the physical side, I’m the chemo chick poster child. I’ve become attached to my three cotton turbans, and I’ve decided that I have no time or energy to learn how to tie the proper head scarf (and I’m not as brave or dynamic as I had envisioned I would be- boldly going without any head covering at all). All but my thumbnails are gone, and my fingertips are looking pretty darned unhealthy. I’ve gained a good bit of weight from those pesky steroids (and the food that I can’t seem to keep from eating), I continue to experience daily nose bleeds, my skin tone is pasty, and I have some lovely bags under my eyes. Not the diva I had hoped to be…but, all in all, good spirits.

I’m ready to be done with chemo, though- to have Fridays free and to know that I won’t have the pesky side effects of fatigue, nausea or heartburn- to have the promise of good things in my future.  Countdown: three more infusions. March 6th should be the last one (time for a celebration!). Then it’s every three weeks for Herceptin treatments for one year, PET scans every 6 months, and the beginnings of a new normal. Whatever normal means.