Saturday, November 14, 2009

tay gets her groove back and other miracles

remember when i wrote this post? and this one? i was dazed, confused and anxious. i wanted my body back. i needed answers and i needed hope. four years. four years of chronic inflammation that stopped me in my tracks, literally. i couldn't dance and for a long while, even walk without pain. my arm flared into throbbing pain if i tried to scrub my bathtub. i stopped scrubbing my bathtub.

then cancer. then my breasts, the breasts i loved from the beginning -changed forever. i felt i lost them. i felt i lost my sexiness. i fell into despair with my body.

what i did lose in reality was my confidence, my hard won, healthy self-esteem. i did indeed lose my groove. that ball dropped and rolled away.

i didn't happen overnight, this losing of my confidence, my sense of womanly self that projected desirable, attractive, sexy. it started with pain, pain that clouded my vision. anyone who has ever been in chronic pain knows about how difficult it is to see clearly when that veil comes down.

pain gets between you and your best self. pain pushes the world away. i stopped going out, stopped dating for long periods. i didn't feel like good company. i couldn't see why anyone would want me. i felt broken. i felt ugly. because of my heel pain, i had to wear only sensible shoes, running shoes. i covered my body with layers of loose clothes, always in dark colors.

i didn't want to be seen. i stopped even trying to look attractive most of the time. i think i forget how to take care of that part of me. i mourned for the person i used to be. and even though i didn't show it much on this blog, i was often bitter. often very, very angry.

the beautiful thing i am writing to share today is this story line has completely changed. in the past nine weeks, i have made massive changes to my diet, removing everything that my body reacts to. the results so far are nothing short of a miracle. i had this crazy, scary medical mystery, remember this post?

today, i feel the mystery is solved. i am finally able to heal, really heal!

i am walking around in a different body, one with rapidly decreasing inflammation. a body that bounces back and heals. a body that can wear cute shoes and scrub the bathtub. i am even beginning to believe that in the future, perhaps in the next few months, i will be able to begin to dance and exercise freely again! there are lots of physical signs that my body is healing after all these years. and in the end, the answer was as simple as food.

10 weeks ago, based on the results of my ALCAT test, i removed the allergens. i stopped eating the foods that were making me sick and now, i am healing. common healthy foods like tomatoes and yogurt and blueberries. salmon and coconut and spinach. 83 common foods, in fact! for years, i thought i was feeding my body the healthiest diet possible. yet, i didn't get better. long time readers of this blog know, i had an increase in strange symptoms.

can you believe it, my friends? i have my groove back. i feel alive and sexy in my body. my sparkle is back and people are noticing. i have begun to think i can date again. i am actually beginning to love my body, even these changed and scarred breasts -again.

as little as four months ago, i did not think i would ever be here, feeling as good as i do in this moment.

i have not found the self i lost, for that girl is gone. but i have found a new self, a wiser self. and i approach my life with so much gratitude these days. six months ago i thought to just have work that is meaningful and that i love would be enough. i didn't beleive i would ever really get my groove back. but i kept pushing for an answer. the food allergy testing was my last idea to try, my last hope of figuring it all out.

such a radical diet change requires daily commitment to my well-being. i cannot get lazy or busy and forget to nurture myself. those days of going blindly through life are really and truly over. they are part of the girl i lost, the part that needed to go.

i will leave you with just this. solving this piece has opened the doors to so much that is new and wonderful and exciting. i feel like anything is possible now. my body and i are friends again and together, we are making the most of every day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

looking through a new lens

as i approach the 2-year mark on my cancer diagnosis, i realize the complete absorption in everything related to my health is being replaced with concerns outside of me. slowly, the rest of the world is returning to focus. i really welcome this shift in attention. lately, i have had entire days when i don't think about cancer, my health or the past.

research, writing and reflection on what i am learning in grad school has my mind plenty full. what a relief!

this transition from being self-centered to other-centered isn't easy, particularly graceful or smooth, however. my social skills, specifically my listening skills, atrophied in the past couple of years. i am often feeling awkward these days, as i relearn how to relate, connect and feel comfortable out in the world again. i constantly feel the pull between my impulse to share my thoughts and the realization that i learn more listening.

shut your mouth, i tell myself. my head is busy with self-editing these days. i am trying to keep my self-judgment honest, but soft. i know beating myself up after a conversation isn't productive.

i feel incredibly blessed in my graduate program. the nature of our studies puts a focus on developing listening skills, with ample opportunity to practice. it's like going back to therapy, but this time, as the person listening, not the person talking. this blog is a good place to do the talking and processing i still need for growth, actually. and i am so thankful that there are a few of you out there in cyberspace that want to listen in on my journey.

i keep feeling amazed at my good fortune to have found this career path at just the right time in my life.

a little tidbit from my reading this week: did you know the human brain keeps on growing throughout your whole life? every time you learn something new, a new connection is made in the brain, it actually physically changes. finding opportunities as adults to challenge our brains to learn new things takes effort and commitment, if you aren't in graduate school. but the rewards are real.

next, i tackle learning Spanish. now that i know my brain is up to the task, i am excited. what are you excited about these days? i'd love to hear from you all.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

this is what i came for

consumed. what does it mean to be consumed by love, by work or perhaps by work you love? for for now and for the next 22 months i am consumed by graduate school. that's the general outline, but the details of the story are more interesting, rich with ideas and sprinkled with gems.

really, i am consumed by learning -in the best way, like how with a new love you want to spend every second together.

yes, i am busy, with a plate fuller than it's been in some time. reading, research, writing, learning, teaching. i don't select the items on the plate for the most part, i accepted the invitation to this banquet after all. in times past, this dictated order and structure might have had me chaffing and restless.

everything feels different in my life now. i am happy, contented even. how novel!

education, equity, social justice, motivation all is so fascinating that i find i am engaged fully, every waking moment. it all feels right, walking this path, earning this particular degree and entering this field. what i have learned in the first three weeks of school is that the field of school counseling is both wide and open. it's current model is a significant departure from the guidance counselor model we all grew up with, it is called transformative school counseling. the model is less than a decade old and there is much growth ahead. over the course of my career, i could choose to contribute on many levels, from hands-on in the schools to research and writing, all the way to advocacy on a national level.

already, i am in love with the research. oh, and the students. the students!

i started one of my placements this week, the year-long teaching practicum i am doing at an alternative high school. it is an amazing program that welcomed me with open arms, excited to have extra help. i am working with two humanities teachers, so i get the opportunity to observe different teaching styles. the students all have overcome huge personal obstacles and were not successful in traditional high school. these are the youth that have been thrown away by schools, society and often their own parents. yet they come to this program with a commitment to make a new life and a future they are proud to direct. hearing their stories this week renewed my deeply held belief that anything is possible. it is so easy to feel hopeless these days, with the economy, the health care crises and all the negative spin around us. but when i spend time with the raw power of the human spirit and see the hunger these young adults have to make a life, a good life -then it's hard to feel anything but awed, humbled, amazed, inspired, grateful.

this is what i came for.

to be witness to transformation. (and occasionally a guide.) to sit at the crossroads with young people and support moving their life in a positive, new direction. you can smell the fear in the room, but you can also feel a strong swelling of hope and purpose, as they are discovering strength, finding confidence and showing up for themselves.

Friday, September 11, 2009

change, all the way to my cells

ten days into my radical shift in diet and i have both triumphs and struggles to report. following my ALCAT diet has had wonderful effects on my health already. I've lost five pounds, my energy has increased significantly and i don't have that constant feeling of craving something sweet.

i think my cells are happy. i am not feeding my body anything that is toxic to me specifically, nothing that causes stress to process. since my body isn't preoccupied reacting to food particles it sees as enemies, it can use all of the fuel to create energy for living!

what a radical concept to experience, not just read about as theory.

i am so grateful to my creative nature and my nerdy interest in food & cooking. without that passion, making meals that satisfy out of my list of approved foods would be overwhelming and frustrating. of course, i have those moments of frustration, moments when i feel deprived and stuck. but each day i figure out another piece of the menu puzzle and that part of the journey is an exciting challenge.

how can i feed myself well with all these restrictions?

one way is simply by discovering new foods. foods i haven't eaten in years. a small bowl of bean sprouts is a perfect crunchy snack on a warm afternoon. i ventured out to the countryside with a dear friend and went organic fruit picking, coming home with armloads of juicy blackberries and the most exquisite italian plums. i had so much energy last week, i canned the fruit immediately. one thing led to another and i just kept on canning, also making yummy bread & butter style pickles with zucchini instead of cucumbers. i adapted my grandmother's recipe and they are delicious!

snack foods are the most difficult, as i don't want to rely too much on nuts. today i am making crackers in my dehydrator, subbing almond meal & hemp powder for the flax and hoping for great results. since garlic is out, i am learning what flavors i can achieve with different kinds of onions.

it is hard to describe, but even my connective tissue feels different. perhaps the inflammation is going down and that explains the sense that my muscles and tissues are not "sticky" anymore. frankly, i don't think i even realized how much fatigue and "icky all over" feeling i had in my body until it began to change this past week.

and now for the bad news. *sigh*

i have not been sleeping well at all. starting school has upped my anxiety. my brain suddenly has way too much to hold and it feels like 100 monkeys are tap dancing in there in a mosh pit. changing my entire diet while dealing with some stressful final jewelry orders, starting the term and the general anxiety i always have leading up to my birthday...well, you see the picture. it's not so pretty.

but i know this will pass, everything does. yet in the middle of the night, somehow that is not comforting. sleep feels like a guardian angel that has abandoned her post.

and i am coping as best i can. cooking up a birthday plan for next week that feels like a sweet celebration, but not adding to the stress mess. i am making massive lists to try to get some of that jumble out of my head. i am drinking calming tea and taking supplements, all my tricks are out of the box and in play.

thanks for your continuous support my friends. it's humbling and uplifting.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

finally, an abundance of answers!

the results of my ALCAT blood test for food intolerance are finally in my hands. i had a two hour meeting with my new natropath doctor yesterday and learned so much. in addition to the list of 86 foods i show a reaction too, i also learned my body is not breaking down and processing proteins very well.

today is the beginning of a new approach to eating and digesting.

i'm now taking a supplement to increase the stomach acids to break down those proteins. for the next months, i will strictly avoid the foods on my list that show reactions. i am sure this will take new creative cooking efforts, as many of the foods i depend on are those that i am actually intolerant to!

of the 86 forbidden foods, 23 are staples in my diet: banana, cucumber, fennel, garlic, ginger, lime, soybean, spinach, tomato, basil, blueberry, celery, chicken, cinnamon, coconut, corn, egg white, fig, flax seed, lemon, mushroom, nutmeg, salmon, vanilla.

oh, and all gluten, all dairy. *deep sigh*

no more homemade yogurt, which is what i am mourning as i write this post at breakfast time. however, i now recall that every time i have gone off dairy (and i don't eat much, just homemade yogurt, sheep's milk romano and some goat cheese) i have lost weight. with so many health issues to address, i know it is worth it to make these changes. i need to finally, after 4 years, heal my chronic inflammation problems in my arms and heel. i don't ever want to re-visit the vertigo and arthritis pain in my back from the last few months. and then there is the general intestinal distress i've dealt with for, let's see...oh, about 25 years.

and cancer. i certainly don't ever want to see his face again. cancer is directly tied to inflammation in the body. anything i can do to bring down inflammation will benefit every cell i have.

i was pretty deflated yesterday after meeting the doctor, but this morning i am feeling up to the task of overhauling my food plan.

some good news in my results include favorite staple foods that i have no adverse reaction to at all: chocolate, cabbage, sardines, quinoa, olive, almonds, sesame, lentils, onion, swiss chard...and since chicken is out, i will turn to the approved meats...turkey, lamb, beef, plus a large variety of fish and seafood is ok. I don't eat much meat and when i do it's always organic, pasture-raised. which is expensive and that factor naturally limits my intake.

the loss i feel most keenly is coconut, lemons, egg white & dairy. but i will survive and i am sure, start eating other foods that are just as yummy. after a month, i can re-introduce a food from the mild reactive list, like coconut, and see how i do. so there is hope that some of my favorites might come back in rotation in a few months. i am guessing the dairy is gone for good, however.

i will have to find someone to eat my beautiful tomatoes on the plants i have been lovingly growing for months on my little patio...i guess i will just have to enjoy them visually!

i also learned from the results of my colonoscopy & endoscopy that i don't have any gluten damage in my intestines, which means my year off gluten has healed the system. i'm very happy to know my body's natural healing process is working.

i start my graduate program fall classes next week, so life is about to get pretty busy. but i will be updating the blog with my progress on this new eating protocol, so stay tuned for what i hope will be all good news!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

getting closer every day

it has been a packed few weeks since my last post here. i don't yet have the answers i seek, but i do feel incredibly encouraged and more certain than i have ever been that i will get those answers. my quest to figure out where this crazy back pain/arthritis and the vertigo is coming from has been a long and twisty road with plenty of nay-sayers along the way.

i hope to be set free with the answers that are coming on august 31st, when i get the results of the blood test i did for intolerance to 200 foods and 10 environmental chemicals. my worst case scenario would be results that showed high reaction to chocolate, cabbage, coconut, almonds & chlorine. but i am determined to be healthy, so even if i give up all my favorites and swimming...well, i believe it will be worth it to be healthy.

i found a natropath doc here that specializes in just the path of inquiry i have been on. intestinal disturbance, food allergies, arthritis and the links between them. when i found her, it seemed like all the stars in the universe finally aligned to help me on my quest. she doesn't think i am crazy! i can hardly believe she is also in my new insurance network, so follow-up visits will cost me less than $10. she also gave me her professional price on the big blood test, so i saved several hundred dollars, which feels like nothing short of a miracle!

in other health news: the colonoscopy went well, although biopsy results won't be in until this monday. yesterday i went into the operating room for what i hope will be the last time in this lifetime. my plastic surgeon did some revision on my breasts where they had not healed well and the scars had stretched and weakened. right away i can see the difference and it is very positive! i am sore and stiff today, but i know this will pass and soon i'll be able to swim and be active again.

they did most of the procedure with just local anesthetic, but to take the edge off, i also had some of the stuff that killed michael jackson. it's meant for small doses given in hospitals during surgery, you know.

*sigh* such a sad case...

this month of august has been full, very task-oriented and focused on getting ready to be a full time student, with minimal distractions. i set my office/study room in order with new files, desktop and shelves. mountains of papers have been sorted, filed, recycled and shredded. i am filled with a quiet joy, seeing the office take shape into an organized space. one of the most satisfying projects was taking my whole CD collection (most of which were in boxes) and removing them from the bulky jewel cases and presto! they all fit in one zipped-up 3-ring binder. i really wish i'd done that years ago.

there is my theme for august: getting it done. oh, and having fun. more on that later.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

answers, i need answers

hello again, my friends. for the past few weeks, i have been completely and happily absorbed in graduate school. the program is exciting, intense and just what the doctor ordered. it has been wonderful to focus on ideas and fill my brain up with all that new knowledge, instead of concentrating on my health 24/7.

how boring. it has been a boring stretch of months, thinking about my health so intently. this summer, it was great to change the channel and tune into something altogether new.

now i am on summer break and the health stuff is back on the front page again. *sigh*

i do feel much closer to figuring out my medical mystery. like sherlock holmes with no watson to assist me, i have been looking & thinking, researching & taking notes...turning over every rock to find my answers. this past week, the vertigo returned. oh shit. this time, it again showed up with back pain. thankfully, i have the motion sickness medicine from that trip to the ER in march. i take it when the room is spinning as i wake in the morning and it makes me so sleepy, am ready for a nap at noon.

i remain convinced that a slow-reaction food allergy or intolerance is at the root of all these mysterious symptoms. finding a doctor that doesn't think i am crazy has proved difficult. my secret fear is that i am crazy and i will never find an answer.

it is stressful knowing at any time, for no apparent reason, i can have a spell of vertigo, or intense back pain. it is very debilitating! what if this happens when i am in school?

on my own, i am getting blood drawn at a lab here and sending it to a well-respected testing facility. the test is called the ALCAT and i'll be tested for delayed reactions to 200 foods. i need answers and even though this test is expensive, i think having answers (even if i learn i can't eat some of my favorite foods) will be comforting. at this point i feel like i can deal with anything except mystery.

i'm also having a colonoscopy next monday, so maybe the tissue samples from my digestive system will also provide some answers.

maybe, just maybe, if i spend just one more month on the health stuff, i can figure it out and move on. i really want and need to move on. i have so much energy to give when i am not wrapped up in my health and medical issues.

manifesting answers. let it be so.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

yes to all of it

last fall i saw an astrologer and she told me that come summer, my whole routine structure would be blown away and something new would replace it. lo and behold, it is happening, my life is changing. radically. on june 8, i became a graduate student, an experience i have jumped into with both feet.

my head and heart came along as well. things are blowing away, old dead ideas being replaced with exciting growth. i feel like everything is buzzing, like a busy hive of information in my brain.

the shifts are flowing through all parts of my life. for instance, once my financial aid check came, any remaining desire i had to continue my production line of jewelry dissipated immediately. i was only doing it for income, there was no love left. i adore making pretty things and creating one-of-kind art. but for this artist, with repetition comes despair. i am so relieved to put all that to the side.

i attended an all day orientation meeting at the college last week. our dean gave a very inspiring welcome speech to the group entering the school counseling program. one thing he said has really stuck with me - that by beginning this program, we are entering a period of our lives committed to intellectual and personal growth.

personal growth. i had been thinking of this going back to school thing as first, a means to an end (to get a job I love) and second, as a process of expanding my knowledge. sure, i assumed that intellectual growth is built in to a graduate school experience. but personal growth? when the dean spoke, that philosophy impressed me and inspired me. and already, after just one course, i am finding the material challenging and feel myself stretching, expanding...growing.

this is so exciting. i feel that i am exactly where i need to be. the right time in my life, the right academic path and the right institution.

i love that this program is on the cutting edge of preparing school counselors to be agents of change, real leaders in the schools. i love the focus on social justice and diversity. i am so excited to be pushed and already find biases being exposed as my brain goes click-click-click and my heart swells up a bit more.

i have been talking about my longing to get back to spiritual development for a while now. without realizing it, i seem to have chosen a program and a career path that is perfectly lined up with that desire.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

a bright burning star is gone

my friend died yesterday, she was only 43. her name is lenea and we have been friends for 27 years. in high school we were inseparable in junior and senior years. neither of us fit in very well in our suburban high school, we didn't think like the rest of our peers. both eldest children, we bitched about our siblings and compared notes on all the ways our parents failed us. lenea had a smile that made your heart melt. we shopped together, went out drinking with fake ID cards and dressed up for halloween. we shared a very strong bond even after high school ended, in fact, she felt abandoned when i left for a year in europe after graduation. by the time i returned, she had moved to the east coast for college. we've had our ups and downs, like every relationship, especially one between two strong-willed opinionated women. uppity women, one could say - in our younger years.

time and distance never changed the love between us. even if we hadn't spoken in months, we could call each other and pick up a conversation right where we left it last time. our friendship brought great comfort to us both over the years.

yet, as i hung up the phone today after receiving the news from her husband, i was flooded with guilt and shame for all the ways i failed her as a friend when she got sick. the emails i left unanswered because i was too busy. i should have sent cards and care packages from the first news of her illness. she should never have to had wondered for a second if i cared for her.

three years ago, i didn't know what it was like to face a serious health issue.

then i got cancer, and a friend i cared about deeply and depended on dropped out of my life completely. i was puzzled, then hurt. hurt turned to bitterness and then later, to acceptance and some kind of forgiveness finally came. i saw that we are all struggling on some level and those struggles can get in the way of being present to others. even, or maybe especially, those we care about the most. being present for a dear one being sick takes courage because it brings to light our own frailty, our own vulnerability to disease.

if she can get cancer, so can i. maybe if i don't engage with the illness, it won't be real.

it took my friend lenea to show me how to get to acceptance. after i seemed to disappear from her life when she got sick (did i know how serious it was? i don't think so. i remember i thought, she is married, she has lots of friends there to support her, she doesn't really need me. months flew by in the blur. the blur of work and worry over the everyday. petty worries. while lenea's life, her fight for life, was 3,000 miles away. i didn't know she was fighting for life, but i should have asked) lenea went through all those stages. her feeling were really hurt and she tried to put me out of her heart, to save her energy for healing. she finally got well enough to write me and express her forgiveness. she missed me and wanted to re-connect, even after i hurt her feelings.

here is a portion of an email from 2 years after she got sick where lenea explains what she has:
"Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin, organs and muscles. It is similar to lupus, however in this case, the body views each component as foreign and wages war. The disease manifests itself in the form of inflammation and subsequent development of scar tissue. When the process affects organs such as the heart and lungs, the development of scar tissue results in a loss of organ flexibility (i.e. loss of function). My lungs were saved and now have approximately 50% capacity and my heart is impaired. All of this means that I can participate in limited exercise and have a modified life style. I am also supposed to restrict the amount of red meat and salt intake. Eventually it may become necessary for me to consider a heart / lung transplant. I am undecided about whether that is something I want to pursue. I believe that in this life there are stars that burn long and stars that burn bright. I would like to think that my star is a bright burner."

today i am humbled and grieved. her heart stopped and my oldest friend is gone from this earth. lenea's last email to me was so cheerful, she reported her health improving steadily and she was thrilled at my acceptance into graduate school. she always, always believed in me and wished the very best for me. it often grieved her to see me struggle in life.

i think of the little things that cause hurt feelings and wedge between friends. there are people i should call. i have too often let friendships lapse and drift away for no reason at all. no good reason, anyway. fear of rejection, a resistance to emotional confrontation, an tendency to be self-absorbed when i am broke or ill.

close friendships are one of the foundations of good health and long life. i've never had a particularly easy time making close friends and today i finally get the truth: i need to keep the friends i have.

nurturing friendships is simply the most important work of being human. what are we, indeed what am i, without my connection to other people?

thank-you, all my friends who read this blog for your kindness, your patience with me and the gift of your love.

today i feel profoundly unworthy and deeply grateful.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

living my story

as you may have noticed, i have not been blogging. sometimes i have this reaction to blogging, that i should just get over myself and stop blathering on about this or that health problem. i wonder if people still read my story, now that it's not all drama and trauma.

i guess the biggest thing keeping me from blogging is just life. i have been living my story more and telling it less. which is a good sign of healing, i believe.

on june 8, i start my first graduate school class and i'm so excited. i have been making some jewelry, as a few orders have trickled in...just the right amount, actually. my patio garden has been occupying many happy hours, both in the planning and in execution. also, my part time job has been more like full time this past month, so i've been very busy doing leasing here at the apartment complex i manage.

perhaps the best thing going on is exercise. i committed to a minimum of 3 days a week in water exercise class and i have been sticking to it. only at the end of this last week did i begin to enjoy it. losing a few pounds has encouraged me and i have discovered that going off sugar makes me feel fully sane, happy and clear-headed.

life in my body is getting better. i feel very hopeful about the future with this body.

even so, i do still have a medical mystery to solve. yes, i have spent dozens of hours researching weird arthritis symptoms and food allergies, to name just a few. when i last wrote, it seemed my mystery was solved. however, after the MRI results came back, my specialist wasn't so certain about the AS diagnosis. so he is sending me on to the gastroenterology department and i am sending myself to an allergist for testing.

personally, my gut tells me this: it's the food.

food allergies create symptoms all over the map. symptoms that mirror my list quite clearly. so i am keeping a food journal, writing down every little morsel i consume, how my body feels and how i feel emotionally. i am only 1 week into that journal process and it's already illuminating.

we will see where this search for answers takes me, my dear readers. perhaps this blog will turn into one about these new issues and discoveries. i sure as hell don't want to be the high-maintenance girl that can't go out and eat because she is allergic to x, y, z, and 40 other things. however, i would do anything (heaven help me, even give up chocolate) to avoid the pain i experienced in march.

that's it, folks. all the news that is, here in my casa. what is new with you?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

the sign says "go this way"

ankylosing spondylitis. that is the verdict from my new specialist, dr. deodhar at OHSU. last monday i met with him and with a few minutes of examining me, listening to my symptoms and reading my family medical history, he said what i have is a classical presentation of ankylosing spondylitis.

so what does this mean for me? first of all, dr. deodhar said i must lose weight and begin to swim or do water exercise at least 4 days a week. i must have regular cardio exercise with zero to low-impact on my joints. yoga is also recommended, although i will begin with a focus on the water exercise for now. slow and steady wins the race...if i needed further motivation to get my butt in gear, well now i have it in the form of a prescription!

i guess it's good news on some level. it is good to have an answer and a direction of treatment to pursue. i still don't know what sparked the attack of acute, intense back pain and vertigo of march, but i do feel they are related. my diagnosis of AS is revealing, but not the full answer on some levels. i hope to gain the answer to that mystery at my next appointment. my x-rays came back without showing degenerative damage in my lower back vertebrae and pelvis, so that is also good news. i seem to have caught it early enough to (hopefully) prevent degeneration.

after all, i want the next 50 years of my life to be active, healthy and full of adventure!

since my last post, i have been bustling around in the studio with orders and busy gardening on my patio. i have a small rose garden that after years of neglect, is finally getting tended, weeded and mulched. i fought a brutal battle with aphids (3,000 ladybugs lost their lives) and have emerged victorious. today, tomato and basil plants are going into pots. a small bed of multi-color sunflowers are being seeded. i have dreams of turning this little patio into a fruitful kitchen garden.

this year, it is an experiment. yet, hopefully will be able to enjoy cut flowers and fresh veggies from right outside my back door in a couple of months.

spring is in full swing. summer is coming, even through the rain, i can see that sunshine on the other side. and i am excited to enjoy summer, my summer of new things.

on june 8, my first graduate school class begins. i am nervous and excited. the summer classes are offered as intensives, so i will have one class everyday 8-5 for a solid week, then it's done. whew! what a way to begin the program. i am taking full time credits this summer, but only actually in class for about four weeks.

so there will be plenty of time to dig into my gardening projects and other summer pleasures. i would like to go blueberry picking and make pickles. and i will be clocking in some hours each week at the ymca, of course.

what does summer hold in store for you this year?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

finding my beautiful again

it is a gorgeous sunny day here in portland, so i will keep this post short. my afternoon plans involve beginning to plant my container garden on my new patio. tiny victory garden, here i come!

a positive frame of mind has continued through this week and grown, in fact. spring does wonders for the spirit, although last year at this time i was not tuned into the season change. that post-radiation period is a blur in my memory. thank goodness i am a year past all that and moving into wonderful, life-affirming new things!

the photo above was taken on our family trip to mexico at the beginning of april. my sister meghan (right) and sister-in-law, heather (center) and i had all picked up these fun dresses as souvenirs. that evening marks the first time i have felt beautiful in a long time...since before the cancer, before november of 2007.

since that special night, in the tropical magic with my family all around, i have been reflecting on just what made the change. what elements came together to turn the tide in my self-esteem around the way i look. or really, the way i feel about how i look.

i came to some encouraging conclusions:
  • wearing contacts all week instead of my glasses and putting on a bit of make-up was a factor. a bigger factor than i realized, all these months i haven't worn contacts because of the cost. this piece of insight is encouraging because it's easy to fix.
  • being relaxed and letting go of worry gives a girl a glow. yes, i was on a great vacation, but that doesn't mean i have to be back into worry-mode here at home. in fact, now that i know my financial aid starts coming in june, i am feeling all the big worries slide away. knowing i am on a really good career path for me takes so much worry out of life.
  • having my wonderful family all around, feeling so loved and getting tons of hugs from the kids was so sustaining. being connected to people you love also brings a beautiful glow. well, back here in portland, i am still 3,000 miles away from my family. but i can connect more with friends i love here.
  • not being in pain is a great beauty treatment! the combination of rest, exercise, warmth, good company and excellent tequila made for a nearly pain-free week. it seems like at least some of those things can be reproduced here at home. i'm going to try, anyway! (one bottle of amazing tequila came home with be sipped and savored...even just smelling it transports me to a happy place)

back home, i am feeling better than i have in many months. i have a new potion for clearing up my acne working wonders, i'm spending a little time actually trying to look good everyday. this is new and i realize now i have been trying to be invisible for such a long time, i forgot what tools i even used to look bright and attractive!

little encouragements mean alot. something that i write here on my list might seem of small consequence to most. yet we all have those things that either boost our confidence or serve to erode it, bit by bit. the unsightly tattoo marker that was put on between my breasts for radiation treatment really bugged me, it meant i couldn't wear low-cut tops. it added to all the angst over my mangled breasts and i have hated the reminder, seeing it everyday since feburary 4, 2008. so i have been getting laser treatments to remove it and finally, after several months, i am seeing great progress. it's quite faint now, nearly gone.

a check-up with my plastic surgeon that did my breast lift & reduction in decemeber went well this past week. the breast is shifting into shape, a rather nice shape. something i couldn't even imagine four months ago! the scars are not as they should be, however. but even there, he had good news. easy-peasy scar revision can improve that gnarly area, with minimal recovery time. in fact, he said the stuck-down, indented scar on the other breast, where my tumors were removed, can also be fixed every easily. i left his office on cloud nine, let me tell you. motivated and inspired to do everything i can to improve myself through exercise and diet because for the first time in 18 months, i can see the possibility that i can get back to feeling good naked.

i look into the future and i see myself feeling better and better and better. sitting here today, i know i am going to get my groove back and find my beautiful, more each day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

facing the sea, feeling loved

friends, there is a real sea change in my life...can you feel it? the wind has shifted, there is a quickening of energy. maybe it's simply spring, but i don't think so. i think things are changing, really moving in a positive direction.

perhaps last week - away from reality and into the cosy arms of my family (in a dreamy, tropical setting, no less -cozumel, mexico) has colored my view all rosy-sweet? who cares. it just feels good to feel better than i have felt in months and months
and months.

the light in the end of the tunnel is shining bright.

grad school is coming. better health is coming. financial aid is coming and that means less worries. less worry mean more energy! more energy for learning and growing. more energy for nurturing friendships.

last week i faced a big fear. i swam in the ocean. a sparkling, warm, turquoise ocean with my family all around me. i would love to say that it was magical and snorkeling was easy and i saw lots of amazing things under the water. but that isn't how the story really goes. we swam out a long ways from the shore to reach the reef. i didn't realize it was a yellow flag day and the waves were bigger than i could handle. the long swim exhausted me, even with the help of my sweet nephew, holding my elbow to guide me to the last raft before the final swim to the reef.

goodness, what ever was i thinking? i tried to go from zero to sixty and conquer a huge fear in one morning!

i did finally make it to the reef and for just a minute, with my brother holding my hand, i snorkeled with my face in the water and saw a bit of coral, a couple of striped fish. i wanted to see the fields of sea fans on that reef, but i didn't make it that far. panic set in and even with my flotation vest, i was overcome. once you get water in your eyes and swallow a bit of salt water, it is hard to re-group. my sister-in-law stayed with me for a while, as i tried to get back on that reef and carry on. pretty quickly, i realized i just could not do it. my sister was also full of sea water and ready to go back to shore. together, we slowly made our way back.

when i think of the experience now, i remember the panic, but more so, i remember how loved and protected i felt with my family, even my young nieces and nephew were looking out for me. (they are all confident swimmers). my other sister had taken her little boy (way too small for those waves) back to shore earlier and sent a marine park staffer on a jet-ski out to rescue me.

i did something very brave (for me), i swam in the ocean, put my face and ears under the water. i didn't accomplish all i set out to do or see, but i got a powerful look at just how held i really am. it was very touching to have my 12-year-old nieces and nephew tell me how proud they were of me for trying.

a few days later, i did get to see hundreds of fish. the experience wasn't flashy or particularly brave, but my sweet 9-year-old niece and i had a marvelous time looking at the schools of tropical fish right under the dock at our resort. big silver ones with blue stripes, tiny yellow ones with black stripes, like was shallow enough to stand on the sandy bottom and just by putting our masks in the water, we could be close to all those colorful fish and feel perfectly safe. some of the time we held hands and the fish swam all around us, inches from our bodies.

that hour was one of the best in my whole life.

later, we looked up the kinds of fish we had seen and laughed over lunch. sharing the experience with her made it wonderful. the whole week was a lush soak in quality time with the people i love most. how lucky i was to get to take a special trip with them and how blessed i feel to have a family i want to spend that kind of time with. we belly-laughed often and were perfectly relaxed all week.

does facing a big fear bring a sea change in life? i can't be sure, but i know it can't hurt. i do feel more free and more calm since that day in the ocean. i sense my confidence shift. i've been living with fear stuck close to my side for too long. i feel like i want to face other things i fear with an equal tossing of caution to the wind...

...swim out into other uncharted waters and feel a loving hand on my elbow, guiding me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

miracles, big & small

somehow, the entire month of march slipped by me. in pain or sick for most of it, i feel like i got nothing accomplished. so i am very glad to start a new month. my health seems to be steadily improving and after a couple of head adjustments with a skilled physical therapist, the rocks in my inner ear feel like they are back in place. no more feeling dizzy and heaven help me, no more trips to the emergency room!

march hasn't been all gloom, however. there have been a couple of decidedly brilliant spots. my interview day at lewis & clark felt just right at the beginning of the month. then just last week, my acceptance letter to the graduate program arrived.

and like magic, some jewelry sales have floated in without rhyme or reason. i guess abundance doesn't need a reason, it just is. the day the letter arrived, something shifted. suddenly, there was movement and last week delivered a wonderful flurry of orders. it was as if the universe was giving me a sign, a sign that somehow, the money part will all work out.

today, more good news.

for reasons i cannot begin to understand, my health insurance company that manages the COBRA plan has agreed to extend my coverage for an extra month, so i will have continuous coverage until my new plan through the college starts. i asked, expecting a immediate no, as insurance companies are not widely known to be in the business of compassion. for the past two weeks, they have been considering it and today, i heard officially that my request will be granted.

it is a miracle, all of it. just in the nick of time, i have swerved my speeding boat away from the rock. there will be no deadly collision, i am safe.

i am safe. relief hardly even begins to cover what i am feeling.

now to get my body to accept what my brain knows is true. i am going to be ok, i am being held and taken care of, once again. i can unclench my jaw and relax my neck. somehow, the answers i seek on the health front will appear as well. thank-you for all your caring and prayers through this time of worry, i appreciate you faithful friends so much.

i realized a couple of days ago that last thursday, that very terrible, long day i spent at the emergency room was my one year anniversary of completing radiation treatment. i am one year beyond cancer. many people begin to call themselves survivors at this point, but i don't like the term. i think perhaps i don't have to label myself at all. it is simple, really. cancer is in the past. i went through a cancer experience and now i am ready to focus my energy on other things.

this blog is a testimony of what an incredible teacher cancer has been for me. my dear readers, you all know what i have learned and how much change my life has seen. i would not wish this particular teacher on anyone and i hope i never have to meet him again in this lifetime. but if cancer does come knocking on your door, know this: you can prepare for battle and fight him like an enemy, or you can accept him as a teacher and sit down to listen.

honestly, i guess there is also a third option, which is to view him as a robber, come to steal your health, peace of mind and your best energy. there is no perfect way to handle cancer. i have experienced it as all three, enemy, teacher, robber...and i still have days where i look at the marks left on my body by cancer and feel robbed. but that gets me nowhere.

the only way to relate to having cancer that has brought me any shred of peace is as my teacher.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

v is for victory and vertigo

have you ever spent 11 hours in the emergency room? an insane experience if ever there was one. last thursday i woke up dizzy, again. i've been dizzy for over 2 weeks, but mildly so and it seemed to be decreasing. boy was i wrong! just getting a glass of water at the sink, the room began to spin violently and i was forced to sit down on the floor. i tried to focus my eyes on one spot, struggling in vain to get the room to stop spinning.

the level of nausea rose dangerously.

you can certainly predict what happened next. oh, it was awful. eight times. worse yet, in my belly was only water and my morning vitamins. afterward, i couldn't stand or do anything useful.

so, i canceled my office hours and crashed back into bed. a while later i woke to a call from my sister in michigan. she listened to my recent story and then read me the riot act. she insisted i go to the emergency room...and make it snappy! obediently, i called a friend and i went. it is not advisable to argue with my sister at such times.

i went, only to sit and sit and then sit some more. i could not read, i was too motion sick. i simply stared at the wall. afternoon slipped into evening and then into night. a kind angel came along and got my house key to go tend to my little dog, who was all alone in the dark and needing to pee. i got very chilled and quite dehydrated, i felt absolutely awful. finally after eight hours, they led me to a room. warm blankets, an iv line inserted, the tv on pbs. i was more comfortable, but things still moved at a snails pace. lovely nurses and even nicer doctors attended me. they did many tests and at long last, after reactivating the severe vertigo and the vomiting, they gave me a definitive diagnosis. you can read the details about BPPV right here.

i finally came home in the middle of the night by taxi and crawled gratefully into my own bed. i now have scripts to prevent the vertigo, and stop the nausea. the next day, i saw my wonderful acupuncturist, who has a background as a PT, working with head trauma patients. she was able to perform a series of head manipulations on me to help heal the problem. i am concentrating on not tipping my head suddenly in any direction. which does make doing my back stretches quite difficult. or anything that requires bending over. thank goodness my legs also know how to squat.

what a crazy thing after a few weeks of crazy things in the health department. is it any wonder i feel a bit crazy?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the fruit of intention is sweet

rejoice! the letter came yesterday from lewis & clark college and i am thrilled to share that they have accepted me into the graduate school of education, the school counseling program. out of the 115 people that applied, the committee accepted just 35. i am feeling so honored and blessed to be in that select group!

as the news sunk in yesterday, it was if the 20 little monkey hands that have been strangling my stomach slowly let go and floated away. i knew i was deeply stressed and that it has been seriously affecting my well-being, yet the flood of relief was something i actually felt, not just emotionally, but physically.

oh, thank-you universe. thank-you friends for your love and support!

tomorrow i will mail back my confirmation of acceptance and hopefully then be able to quickly get in to meet with my advisor and the financial aid folks. the summer term begins may 11, so in almost a blink of an eye, i will be a student! i am so excited about this chapter, about learning and meeting new people. i am sure it will be a healthy, growing time in my life.

ah, health. my back is much better, not 100%, but better. that is also a relief. however, there is something wrong. i feel in in my bones, my gut, my deep self. i am not out looking for problems, but my body has something as of yet undefined going on. my blood tests were inconclusive, so now i am hoping to get accepted by the top specialist and get to the bottom of things with some x-rays. sadly, the average time it takes a woman to be diagnosed with any of these reactive arthritis disease is 9 years. often, after much damage is done and symptoms are severe & constant. i personally am not going to be satisfied with that. if i do indeed have a degenerative disease then i want to know now, not after serious damage is done!

today i made a list of all my weird symptoms. all the odd things that have plagued me for months or years. when this blinding back pain struck a few weeks ago, i would not have connected it to jaw pain & locking, or life-long intestinal issues, or my heel bone spurs, or even my hair loss. however, now that i have done hours of reading, especially on discussion forums where real live people report what is happening to i see that all this weird stuff may be connected. strange symptoms, some occasional, many chronic for years, that i never even saw a doctor for. or when i did see someone for the severe intestinal problems, they ran some tests and told me what i already knew...that something is wrong. my bowel is irritable. brilliant, i knew that at age 18!

it starts to make you feel crazy. like you are just creating symptoms from stress and all the weird stuff isn't real if no one can name what is wrong. thankfully, my current doctor does not think i am crazy and is willing to look at all the possibilities. i fear, however, that diagnosing something really odd might be beyond the scope of her abilities.

meanwhile, i am just working on taking really good care of myself and doing as much healing as i can with diet, exercise and stress-reducing activities. the ymca has approved me for financial assistance, so i can have a membership to their excellent facilities for only $25 a month.

little by little, i am determined to turn the tide in my body to abundant health. and i am certain that entering a career path that asks me to utilize my brain & heart, over my brawn - that path will be an important part of my healing.

life really is too short for me to burn up my one precious body with simply making a living. thank goodness my brain and compassion seems to be inexhaustible...when i take proper care of myself.

now that is the real work. excellent, consistant self-care.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

a little light on a rainy day

thank-you for your loving comments and encouragement, my friends. i am here to report that after 72 hours of round-the-clock dosing with anti-inflammatories, both herbal and pharmaceutical, i am feeling relief. i am in a very manageable place with pain at the moment, thank heavens.

whoa, now that was a crazy ride!

it is still always worst in the morning and the early morning hours leading up to getting up. then as the day progresses, with movement and change in position, the pain subsides. this pattern is actually one of the primary signs that point to ankylosing spondylitis. the low back and hip pain and tightness i have had for years upon waking (that went away during the day, so i didn't seek treatment) were early warnings.

granted, i do not have a positive diagnosis yet. but of course, i have been doing lots of research and reading this week. and i have to admit, this auto-immune, arthritis thing makes sense, given my medical history. for a long time, i have thought something was wrong, but i couldn't figure it out. my chronic inflammation conditions have lingered and lingered, even with years of treatment and very careful, consistent care on my part. last summer my doctor said it just doesn't make are doing everything right, yet you are not getting better. at that time, she suggested that a systemic inflammation was going on, perhaps a reaction to gluten. i went 100% gluten-free in september 1st.

our whole immune system starts in the gut. that is why healing with food is so profound and powerful. yet, i have only been doing this for six months. not enough time to heal years of damage to the intestines. i don't know how long that takes, actually. or how to measure when i get 'there'.

many people with ankylosing spondylitis find following a strict no-starch diet works wonders for them. i may have to say good-bye to pizza (even the gluten-free kind) and potatoes forever. considering i have already given up all bread, cakes, cookies -one wouldn't think this is a hardship. yet i find i still need some comfort foods, once in a while. perhaps after a long period of healing, i can have those things in small amounts, occasionally. i have read of people who have managed to get there. so i have some hope.

at the same time, given the thought that this disease works to fuse my bones together and cripple me, giving up a couple of foods seems like, um, well, small potatoes. sorry - i get both bad puns and ankylosing spondylitis from my dad. i would do anything to avoid the pain i experienced the past two weeks.

now we are just waiting for the blood work to come back from the lab with some answers. i hope for real answers, some direction to pursue, something solid enough to get me into the specialist. you know me, i like to solve things. being in limbo is very difficult for most of us. being in limbo with an expiration date on my insurance is making me crazy with stress.

yet it is such a part of life. limbo. did you ever notice how much of our lives we spend waiting? waiting for answers, waiting for change, waiting for different weather, waiting to do this or that very important thing...waiting for life to settle down, waiting for something to save us, waiting to speak up, waiting to let go...

we like action, we hate limbo, yet we wait. sometimes patiently, often with fretting impatience. that would be me, the fretting, obsessing type of impatience. it is something i really don't like about myself, something i seek to meditate away.

and then i remember. in meditation, you just sit with what is. sit with that awful impatience and one breath at a time, try not to judge. allow the parts of myself i view as weak, nasty, just plain bad - to just be.

this is more challenging than giving up pizza, or sticking with exercise. yet i know this is where i must work. my stress level and how i manage it has a huge impact on the emotional life of each cell in my body. i have always held my stress in my gut, so it comes as no surprise there is damage to heal there. i am ready to accept that the lion's share of that healing may need to be spiritual and emotional. i can't afford to slack off on this and waiting is causing me true harm.

and by the way, i have learned that many people with
ankylosing spondylitis treat pain with medical marijuana. so my plea in the last post wasn't crazy at all. just like any other herb, you can take it in a tincture. although chocolate truffles sound like a great way to take medicine!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the speedboat and the rock

i am a boat, speeding towards a rock that will certainly crush my frame. the rock is aways off, but i can see it, i can taste what the impact could be. it's a beautiful sunny day. i look everywhere but at that rock in my path. i am hoping at the last second, i can somehow swerve and avoid the crash.

save myself from the smashing, the pain, the drowning.

even as i feel the wind in my hair and know i am moving quickly towards the rock, each moment is in surreal slow motion. frame by frame, like the slow passing of a movie, projector set on the wrong speed.

my body has shut down for business. the low back is the general manager - she has flipped over the open sign and switched off the lights. in the dark, i lay in pain. last night, white hot pain that made me cry out, flashing into my sacrum, searing through my hips. i stumbled to the kitchen, sobbing, and took something more to kill the pain.

i am thinking, oh please just kill me. i thought my pain from two days ago was a 10, then a new 10 came along and upped the standard. what the hell is going on?

so far, no real answers, but a few solid hints towards the problem.

a new problem. or, more accurately, an old problem i didn't know i had. a problem older than both bouts of cancer. a problem that most likely set the stage and sold the tickets to cancer. the thought my doctor and chiropractor has is this: that i have ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis. it's a auto-immune disease, really. it fuses your bones together and it's whole game is inflammation. my dad has it, has had it for 40 years. so i know that for the most part, i could, like him, beat this with diet and exercise.

yet at this moment i am so sick of being a patient, so weary after now 10 days and nights of is all just overwhelming.

there is blood work to be done and x-rays, too. a specialist to get on board. all this, when i am racing ever closer to that rock. april 30 is the day my COBRA insurance policy runs out. the policy that has been my lifeline these past 17 months. with it, i have been able to have coverage for a nathurpath doctor, a chiropractor and my acupuncturist, who also does chinese medicine. without it, i have only the option of the state high-risk pool plan. even more money each month that i don't have. my credit card debt mounts and i think if only i can survive this with my credit intact. i feel too tired and too beaten down to start again from scratch. i try to consider what 'plan b' could look like if i am not accepted into grad school and able to subscribe to the school's health insurance. it is very hard to look at that possibility.

when i do, all i see is the rock, getting bigger as i draw closer.

as i sat crying in my doctor's chair yesterday, she talked to me about stress. she said a failure in the back connects emotionally to not feeling supported, to fears about security and foundation. she is right, dear readers. i am scared and obviously, deeply stressed. as much as i try to concentrate on the beautiful blue of the water and the call of the birds flying by, i can't help seeing that rock in the distance. i have not felt so vulnerable on so many levels before. if there is a safety net, i can't seem to see it.

pain has made me so tired and so irrational. financially, i need a miracle. i know this much is true. in this moment, i can not find my way to peace of mind. i can barely find my way through the veil of pain and to the keyboard in front of me.

heaven help me, i can see why people become addicts after accidents. i would take anything, anything to relieve this pain. please send chocolate laced with pot. or whatever else you have.

you probably think i am kidding. i assure you, i am not.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

strange and more strange.

this has been an odd week for the body. it's a tale of struggle and strangeness, of pain and mystery. i began my cleanse on monday, a bright and warm spring day. unlike my last cleanse, this time i was prepared, experienced, confident.

then, things started to fall apart. my body started to host the weirdest symptoms. i still haven't really figured it out and neither has my doctor.

i woke on tuesday morning with severe low back pain and quite dizzy. walking the dog, i nearly fell over. however, i didn't feel sick, exactly. the cleanse protocol i follow allows you to eat plenty of sustenance, it is simply all pureed and from the alkaline list. i was drinking liters of good water and taking all my supplements. on monday, i had done a gentle workout (15 minutes on the exercise bike, 15 minutes gentle yoga and 25 minutes in the dry sauna). i also had a great acupuncture treatment. i should have woken on tuesday feeling like a million super-healthy bucks!

i knew my period was eminent...could that be the wild card? i'd never been dizzy like this before. perhaps i needed more water. i drank more water. i took things easy, took a salt bath, read a book.

by tuesday night, i had moved from just dizzy to intense vertigo whenever i tried to lay down. as you can imagine, this made going to bed quite difficult. when i lay down, ever so gently, the bed began to spin, violently. within minutes, my body was overwhelmed and copious vomiting followed.

now i truly felt terrible.

after an hour of inching down bit by bit to a prone position with the light on, i was able to fall asleep. i was sure a night of rest would restore all to normal.

it was not to be. i visited my doctor and she was puzzled as well. my ears and throat looked fine. perhaps a strange virus had settled in my inner ear and low back? we decided to wait a couple of days and then re-evaluate.

ah, but my interview with the faculty at lewis & clark graduate school was to be friday morning! i found it very hard not to stress out about feeling sick, dizzy and in pain for that very important meeting. i resolved to suck it up with the help of medicine, if needed.

sticking to the cleanse has not been a struggle this week, this first of 3 weeks. the dizzy symptoms have meant i am persistently nauseous, so my appetite has been seriously dampened. drinking smoothies and purred veggie soups has not been a struggle in the slightest. so perhaps there is a silver lining. the worrying part is that i still do not feel well.

the intense vertigo has past, it seems. yet i remain slightly dizzy, a little nauseous and my low back is absolutely killing me. on monday, if it is not improved, i will seek out a chiropractor. perhaps it was never a virus, perhaps i have a pinched nerve.

the week comes to a close, a strange week with some real lows. i have been able to do very little in the way of work and i do have some wedding locket sets to complete. fingers crossed for a healthy start to next week, so i can make up for lost time.

oh, enough about my health already! you probably want to know about the interview, right? dear friends, i went -in a smart outfit and aided by enough medication to keep the back from making me cry out in pain. the process was interesting and unlike anything i have experienced. picture this: a group interview with 25 applicants and 2 faculty members. first, we were given 30 minutes to write an essay, then an hour of going around the table, each person answering a question. then we broke into two groups, i was in a group of 12 applicants with the director of the school counseling program. i really liked the director and i think we connected. in our smaller group, we then went around and answered several more questions. at the end, we had the opportunity to ask questions of the director.

the strange part was feeling as if you are speaking to the whole group (which are in essence, your competition at this point) and telling your story, but the only opinions that matter are the two faculty members present. i feel i did well and for the most part, i felt comfortable and confident. certainly being 42, with years and years of professional experience, management and public speaking -i did have a significant advantage over the applicants in their early 20's.

at this moment, i am filled with relief that the interview is over. i believe i presented myself well, spoke sincerely and made a positive impression. my work is done in this application process. now, we wait for the faculty committee to decide. the director suggested we would have an answer by mail "around the beginning of april". the best part was leaving with even a stronger conviction that this school and this program is a great fit for me. i am so excited about the opportunities for growth, for intellectual stimulus, for building community. and i was thrilled to learn that 100% of their graduates get full time jobs in the field. some even get hired before they finish the program and end up being paid for the second year of internship!

so, i do think this is a perfect 3 weeks to be cleansing. in with the new, out with the old. my highest hopes are hung on getting accepted into this grad school, this program. however, if the fates decide differently, at least i will be healthier (and slimmer -i have already lost 4 lbs) to handle the blow.

at the moment, my deepest desire is for my back to stop hurting. today, i am living in the moment.

Monday, March 2, 2009

spring fling: a cleanse

well, my dear friends, today i embark on a spring cleanse! it's been 6 months since my last one and my body is telling me now is the time. even though it is not truly warm weather outside yet, the sun has been showing us some love lately. days are getting longer, bit by bit. we have a time change just around the corner and i'm going on a short trip with my family to mexico at the beginning of april.

all signs point to cleanse!

i do feel i have made good progress on healing, both heart and body, since september. i've started in to a more regular exercise routine, my apartment is finally decorated and orderly, and the small collages i have been playing with are filling up my creative cup.

though my body would be happy to drop a few pounds, i know that for sure.

i feel like there is such a delicate balance going on. my foot and heel problems have been better for months. yet those months have been largely sedentary ones. as i have eased into some exercise, the heel seems always on the edge of a horrible flair-up. the simple truth is that carrying extra weight puts pressure on that foot. in fact, being overweight is one of the primary causes of plantar facsitis. i may not be able to melt away the bone spur, but i can lose a few pounds. as difficult as the task may be, it is possible and within my control.

so i am going to follow the same cleanse protocol, the ph miracle for weight loss, by dr. robert young. it worked so well for me before. last night i dashed around to the markets to stock up on all my veggies, almond milks and young coconuts. it will be good to break myself off sugar for a few weeks.

if you want to follow along, or join me, my plan is to follow the liquid feast program, get weekly colon hydro-therapy, participate in gentle exercise every single day, do at least 3 dry saunas a week at the gym and finish up on march 22.

spring is the perfect time to detox your system and start a new healthy habit or two!

Friday, February 27, 2009

happy, happy, joy, joy

this is just a whisper of a post to let you all know the good news! i have been invited to attend an interview at lewis & clark college, the next step in their graduate school admission application process.

last night, i slept like a baby. *happy sigh*

the group interview is next friday, march 6. keep those fingers crossed, my dears.

Monday, February 23, 2009

jumpy on the inside

needles and pins. i'm feeling all prickly with anticipation of a very important phone call this week. feburary has flown by in a flash, so by the end of this week i will hear if my application to graduate school has made it to the next round.

early last week, the graduate admissions folks let me know that my packet was deemed complete and had been sent on to the faculty review committee. each day, i wake up and think -today. they are reading my letters of recommendation today. the essay i labored over is being evaluated today.

i can almost hear the buzzing in my head, as part of my brain fixates on these facts 24/7. yet on the outside, i remain calm. i am staying busy in strange ways. projects on the web, research, studying the history of tequila, making collages. organizing my studio and my closets.

oh, and exercise. yes, i have been working out!

i dumped the awful gym where i held a membership (largely unused to my shame) for the past 6 months. and i started dancing on my mini trampoline, with joy, to beyonce. i also joined the Y, which is delightful and also, a very quick drive from my house. ah, the pleasure of having access to a womens only dry sauna again.

the good news i hope for with every fiber of my being is that i will be invited in for an interview with the faculty committee. i really don't know what to expect from that process, except most certainly, more needles and pins! all my hopes are actually pinned on being accepted to the program.

so of course, i am already thinking...whatever will i wear?

Monday, February 16, 2009

what's in a scar?

my nephew bemoans the fact that scars aren't as dashing as they might have been in an earlier, more romantic era. like, perhaps, the days of sword duels over fair maidens. he has quite an amazing scar from the recent thyroid cancer surgery. although unlike mine, which are hidden, my nephew's scar will tell a story to everyone he meets, whether he wants it to or not.

everyone feels differently about their scars, just as they do their bodies. how i feel is this: i am not loving the scars on my breasts. the old, old one from eight years ago is quite faded and runs along the curve of my areola. no one but me and doctors trained to see such things ever notices it. that one doesn't bother me in the least. but the frown-shaped scar from just one year ago, it floats out in the area above my areola and is impossible to miss. not as tidy and pretty as my first surgery's scar. the ends have softened, but the middle has a dent, a funny stuck place. that bothers me, and it has become even more pronounced with a 15-pound weight loss. i am sure being cut twice in rapid succession contributed to the issues.

i wonder how much worse it will get. or how much more i can accept it. i wonder if i can ever stop seeing it, or start loving it. some people claim to love their scars.

can i?

my most recent scars on the other breast are still red and grumpy looking. i fear for them, i want to protect the area in any way i can. i fret over them. i wonder if i had done more with my scar from last year...would it look better now? i feel as if i gave it my all, with months of massage. but that was after radiation treatment ended. perhaps all bets are off when you zap a tender incision with radiation.

the body can only take so much.

truly, it boggles the mind, what we can heal from. how wonderful and mysterious our systems are. i think the mind is the hardest area to heal, the slowest to bounce back. yet, the mind also shows amazing flexibility. i have seen mine grow and stretch to accept new things. i have also seen my mind hold on to hurts and raw feelings for years.

at this moment, it seems a very long stretch to look upon my scars as beautiful. true, i am obsessing over details. right now, the details really matter to me.

this healing tests my patience. i want it faster, better. i want results. but the body takes its time. the work is steady but slow. although perhaps my cells working 24-hours a day think it is all happening very quickly, that the work is looking splendid!

i stumbled on this collection called the scar project, by photographer david jay. it is both beautiful and humbling.

image by nikki farquharson. thanks to d. sharp for the link.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

fretting: worry lite

lately i've been alternating between fretting and being calm & happy. well, those two states with an ample dose of unmotivated frozen-in-place thrown in for good measure.

my energy is increasing, bit by little bit. slowly, sleep is becoming something i can count on. last week i weaned myself off the sleep meds, which was not an easy task. taking my vitamins and supplements every single day has helped in that department. especially the b-vitamins, those babies are critical.

today is seven weeks since the surgery. can you believe that my last bit of scab on the incisions came off only this morning? there is one spot that has been so very slow to heal and in fact has had a bit of a hole for weeks. a few of the so-called dissolved stitches decided to back themselves out of the body. or rather, the body decided to kick them to the curb.

poor body, it's been full-stop busy healing.

i try my best not to fret about it, i really do. but when i lay down to sleep at night, those worry ghosts float in and seem to swallow me. the scar on that part is not looking nice at all. it has widened and raised a bit and seems quite upset, quite red. i may have no choice but to take the expensive route my plastic surgeon suggested if i had any trouble with the scars - to buy these silicone scar-reducing sheets and wear them for 3 months. the only thing holding me back is cost, really. nearly $75! so far, this area is not healing or scarring as well as other places, even from the same surgery.

picture an anchor shape, coming down from the nipple. the problem area is that 't' spot where the long curved incision under the breast meets the vertical one. very tricky place, that.

i will also admit, i have been struggling with diet recently. perhaps that has held up my healing? not eating as healthy as i was prior to surgery, that is for certain. re-introducing just a few starches has put me back into a carb-craving cycle that is hard to break. actually, it's a classic salty-sweet cycle. i have taken to eating raisins with sea salt -a good trick that often works. (really, you should try it - sounds weird but is delicious) oh, and water. i have been getting a gallon a day down consistently, but really i know i need another couple of liters.

so this healthy eating isn't an exact science! not a huge surprise there. i find when i am tired or crabby, i just don't turn to salad for comfort. and i don't fancy cold food at all in the winter, honestly. which my chinese medicine doctor would say is absolutely fine and good. then the raw food alkaline camp will rebut and i'm so overwhelmed with what to eat that i end up eating nothing from breakfast until i am starving at 6pm.

funny how easily one can get thrown off course when a few elements (that taken one at a time might be managed without wavering) come all together in a bunch. let's see...well, in my self-declared 'year without cancer', my nephew and a dear friend are both in the thick of cancer surgery & treatment. cancer seems to be in my life, even though i have banished it from my body. i simply do not want that to be true. i want to relax into life and forget about cancer for a while. a year or two, at least. is that too much to ask?

then my luck with avocados has been total crap for weeks (i depend on them for my breakfast smoothie) and my close-by asian grocery stopped stocking young coconuts (back up plan if avocados are not ripe) and what else? well, i think i just fell out of my good groove a couple of weeks ago and i have been floundering around since.

i am getting things sorted out, however. each day is a fresh start.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

living is the most precious thing

today i am a like a limp rag doll with a stiff neck. the essay, it is finished. in fact, my whole huge application to graduate school is done and turned in. i drove over to lewis & clark on friday late morning. the air was foggy and the graduate school of education was set back into a beautiful mossy forest. i must say, it felt a bit like a mythic quest.

this part of the future is out of my hands now. it will likely be weeks before i hear if i am accepted into the program. so this coming week, i refocus my energies on making jewelry, *ahem*, making a living.

since my job search of the past few months has yielded disappointing results, i am hoping that somehow, the universe will conspire to make my own business thrive until a) school begins, and b)financial aid arrives.

valentine's day is coming after all. and sweethearts need trinkets, do they not?

i can barely stomach the marketing, truth be told. how happy i will be to someday no longer care if people buy or not. to let the sales fall where they may. and to return to my heart, making exquisite one-of-kind objects and to hell with watching my price points!

but truly, these are minor concerns. hardly worth a mention. this past week brought deathly serious concerns that pushed everything else to the side. i didn't really even have the spirit to celebrate getting my application package completed.

back in michigan, my nephew, who is just 21, was very recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer. a very bright kid, he's due to graduate from college with a degree in philosophy this spring. the whole situation has been heartbreaking and even though he and i are not close ( i moved away when he was in his surly teenage years and we saw each other infrequently) it all has been hitting me hard. his mom, my step-sister, is the most wonderful woman. i have always admired her, looked up to her. i think my heart has been breaking for her most of all.

i can only imagine how it would be as a mother to see your child struck with cancer. it has helped me appreciate even more fully how brave my mom has been these past 15 months with me. how difficult to see your child suffer, to be wheeled into surgery.

personally, each time i have been most afraid of not living through the surgery. i have never asked my mom what she was most afraid of, seeing it all happen to her daughter.

last friday was his surgery to remove the thyroid and the cancer. based on a needle biopsy the week before, it was supposed to be just five hours, we all thought. when my family posse arrived in the early morning hours to check him into the hospital, they learned it would be an eight hours surgery.

life gets complicated in the blink of an eye.

eight hours came and went, then ten. i was at ikea when my mom called to say that the cancer was more widespread than predicted and he would be another three or four hours in surgery. driving home from my errands, i couldn't stop crying. the longer it went on, the more afraid i became for his life. finally, after nearly fifteen hours, the surgeons finished and declared that they believed all the cancer was out.

can you believe this? he is being treated at a major cancer center at the university of michigan and his case was the worst thyroid cancer the surgeons had ever seen!

there is treatment ahead, but his prognosis is good.
he has a 'u' shaped incision that literally goes from ear to ear. emotionally, our family is all a little wrung out. but my nephew? well, i saw him on the webcam today in his hospital room. smiling, a little hoarse, but much more chipper than one could have imagined.

whew. deep exhale.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

seeing clearly and walking forward

i know i've been quiet this week, my friends. hopefully my last post was one to savor and has kept you satisfied. whatever have i been up to, you ask?

oh, just writing, writing, research and more writing.

i will now officially announce i am applying to graduate school! the application is due by the first of february, so this next week is more writing, editing and then probably more editing. the essay is the hardest part, especially since everything i have read on the subject of grad school entrance essays say it is the only thing i have any control over that will help me stand out from the pack.

if only i knew how big of a pack i had to beat. no, scratch that. knowing the competition would make no difference. a brilliant essay, with my experiences, reasons, goals and highest hopes all mashed in to one single page -must be written.

the financial aid experts assure me that i can indeed borrow enough through federal loans to finance the whole degree. my hope is to begin school full time this summer and then in about two years, graduate and be ready for a much more successful job search.

while in school, i'll keep my part time job managing the apartments where i live, it is a great gig. and i will do a little jewelry on the side. and from now until june? i hope and pray that with all my intentions lined up, that the universe will conspire to deliver enough jewelry sales to see me through.

the school i've chosen is lewis and clark college. the degree is a master of education in school counseling. all signs point in this direction. i have cleared the mist and focused my intention.

my target is in sight.

ok, back to writing.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

loving what is

my body: this elastic, changing container. today marks one month since my surgery and i see healing, i see hope.

the past 14 months i have spent many hours in despair, only able to see my body in terms of broken, sick, weak, damaged, ugly. yet something has shifted the past month, a significant shift towards the positive.

my squishy belly has always been an area that i reviled. i grew up in an era that instructed girls at puberty to "suck in your tummy". i learned to feel shame for my soft, rounded belly. actress bo derek's taunt bikini belly in the movie "10" was the standard. mine was symbolic of failure. my belly showed the world how i lost my battle with food, over and over. in middle school, i binged secretly on girl scout cookies. by the end of high school, i ate almost nothing and dropped 40 pounds, to my parent's delight.

as an adult, i've enjoyed long periods of peace with my body, but also times of great struggle and strife. this relationship between me and my body has rarely been an easy one.

as breast cancer has marked me with scars, i have had to come to terms with the loss of esteem for that part of my body i always loved: my breasts. i see them now and i am glad to have them, even bearing the history of this last year so vividly. one month out from my last surgery, they look quite the matching pair, when i am dressed. naked, there is still much healing to be done. but i can see now, how the next several months will show steady improvement. already, the shape is becoming more natural.

yet even though i spend far more time dressed than i do naked, it is the naked me i most want to love.

during one extraordinary time of peace with my body, i worked as an artist's model. for a few hours every week, i was nude for a group of painters. to them, i wasn't skinny, i wasn't fat, i was just beautiful. a subject with lovely coloring and interesting shapes. i have never felt so celebrated as i did then. i originally began nude modeling to push myself, i wanted to be more comfortable in my skin. i wanted to love my body, to see it though another lens. the experience was a great success. that group of painters did more for my body image than any lover i've ever had. (which is a sad comment on my choice of lovers, i realize.)

so here i am now, looking through my own lens, trying to see what is good. looking for beauty and hope. seeing my body as something i am lucky to have. the smaller breasts look better on my frame than i imagined in those tense months leading up to the surgery.

strangely, i look slimmer. one friend said i look like i lost 20 pounds. no, i said, less than a pound. but my proportions have changed in a way that to my eyes, looks dramatic. and good.

the soft belly is unchanged and i have decided to treasure it. that particular curve is exactly what would be needed if i ever had to build two new breasts in the future. if breast cancer comes back, i am ready. my two back up b-cups are growing right here - my belly. if i had a double mastectomy, then skilled plastic surgeons can actually use my own belly tissue to create breasts.

now, i am looking on my belly with affection. it just might come in handy someday. i find that deeply comforting, to know that should disaster strike again, i am prepared.

these shifts in perception have helped me adjust my goals and expectations. i no longer feel driven to achieve a particular weight. if i feel good, i will look good. and my healthy eating, my maintaining of a balanced ph in my body - that is better cancer prevention than any "perfect" body mass index score.

as my foot has improved so much this past fall, and with the final surgery safely behind me, i can now begin exercise again. gentle and slow to start. yesterday, i bounced softly on my trampoline, dancing to inspiring music.

a start, just 10 minutes. but a start.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

sleep is the best medicine

thank-you so much for your encouraging comments on my last post. i really was feeling so awful last week. things started turning around over the weekend, when i started sleeping again. after one good night, i was much brighter in spirit. by nights two and three, my body was feeling more like someplace i wanted to live.

a huge factor in my awful week was simple hormones. how much they run our bodies! the normal swelling and breast tenderness of pms last week was a first class ten-fold wammy on my healing chest. as these things do, the whole thing crested and then passed in a few days.

you all know i am a huge fan of herbs and such. but sometimes, nothing works better than the big old heavy hammer of medicine from the pharmacy. the wonderful physician's assistant at my naturpath's office writes the prescription for any meds and her inspired combo worked like a charm. you see, she herself had a double mastectomy last summer. she nodded knowingly when she saw my stricken face and heard my story of pain, chest muscles tight in spasm. thank heavens for muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories.

thank heavens for women who have walked this road before me.

a few lifestyle adjustments have gone a long way as well. turn the tv off at 9pm. don't look at a single thing on paper or online about jobs or money or anything heavy after dinner. clock out from those things i know stress me out, for at least 4 hours before snuggling into bed.

so, i am sleeping again. it feels amazingly good.

i also had a very reassuring visit with my plastic surgeon today. he was able to explain the science, (and shed a little light on the magic) of the healing before me in the next few months. he asked me to have faith in him and this process, which i admit, does not come easily. nothing personal to him, he is a wonderful doctor. i just don't trust easily.

so my healing is progressing just as it should. all is well, he says. i simply must accept that as truth and today, i do feel good. i see the progress and i feel sane enough, rested enough, to trust that i am exactly where i am supposed to be. healing on schedule.

as if the body can be on a schedule!

another piece of excellent news -the pathology and the tissue they removed came back as clear of any cancer. no irregular cells at all. i didn't have any specific reason to suspect there would be cancer cells lurking about, yet it's always good to get the lab work to support your hopes.

2009: a year without cancer in this body. i pray for 42 more years cancer free, but i will start with just one.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

please, can someone get that cloud to stop following me?

today marks three week since my surgery. i wish i could say i am doing amazing and feeling better everyday. truth is, this week has been the hardest yet. i hesitate to report because it all sounds like a whiny child.

the worst is not sleeping well.

do you know sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture? it is a method that would be very effective on me. last saturday night was the last night i slept reasonably well, through the whole night. i am a teary, overwhelmed wreck.

good heavens, what has changed?

perhaps it is just this stage of healing, i am off the pain meds completely. when i lay down a night, my breast is very uncomfortable and dark thoughts sweep over me. sleeping meds were helping with that scenario. this week, modern medicine failed me, all my alternative therapies and herbs haven't worked...i am just sinking.

but more likely, the cause of my sleepless nights is stress. sleep meds don't seem to override severe stress. i think i went to bed sunday night looking at monday morning as the beginning of something. beginning of my first week back to work after surgery. beginning my job search in earnest, again. beginning the graduate school application process. filing federal financial aid forms for said potential grad school. all heavy stuff, all the money worries i banished to the back of my mind have come forward this week.

pile on top of that a new studio-mate moving in next monday, one intense family conflict, having to re-file my application for financial assistance from the hospital, and my vacancy list at the apartment complex i manage suddenly growing to nine empty by the end of the month...

no wonder my stomach is in knots, everything i eat makes me feel worse and i can't sleep.

not so good for healing up this stitched up breast of mine. although the glue has finally come off and the bruising and swelling is down significantly, so thankfully it is looking less gruesome. the shape is still kinda crazy, but size-wise, it is looking like a much closer match to the other, than it did a couple of weeks ago. thank goodness something is improving or i think i would just break into a million little pieces.

can you tell i am feeling pretty fragile right now?

i feel too tired and foggy to face reality, especially harsh reality. i write a to-do list and it makes me feel worse. i see a job listed on-line i should apply for and my head hurts so much i can't gather the energy to tackle another re-write of my cover letter and resume.

thank heavens i have this blog to pour it all out on. for those of you tuned in today, thank-you for listening. it is so good to know you are out there, especially when i feel so crappy.