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.