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.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

new year, still here.

the first day of 2009 finds me where i often am: sitting at my desk, connected to the world through the magic of the internet, with my little dog curled up at my feet. it's not such a bad place to be, but i also know there is more outside my door. most of 2008 saw me in hiding. hunkered down, working on healing and hesitant to leave the house, especially for social events.

i have been hiding in my clothes, too. dark layers to cover up breasts out of whack and a body i've felt was much too chubby. i have wanted to be invisible. i have learned how easy it is to become invisible.


so, a new year, a new me? well, the breasts are on their way to being attractive again. i am hopeful that with such time-consuming healing behind me, i can reclaim that energy for exercise. i am hopeful that i can find joy again in movement and fitness.

i don't want to spend this new year looking back with longing at what i was before cancer. i am committing myself to creating and supporting my healthiest new me, after cancer. i know i have work to do on my body-image. it is work i've done before, so at least i know what tool box to open.

in the past week, i have looked at a number of photo galleries online, where women who have had breast reconstruction of different kinds share their process, step-by-step. it's not easy to even view the pictures, many are gruesome and make me feel all wiggly in my tummy. the positive is that i have now seen what others look like, going through similar surgeries. and mine isn't the worst. it's not the best either, but i am glad to report that it looks better everyday.

the surface bruising is healing rapidly, thanks to my dedication to arnica and vitamin c, i think.

my whole breast is still very sore and tender, but it is improving, steadily. the doctor says that in another 3 weeks, the swelling will be significantly down and things will begin to soften up. the tight vertical incision that connects nipple to the crease under the breast will take many months to become soft and stretch to accept the natural weight and drape of the tissue.

i am also hopeful that i will be so busy with a new job that those 6-8 months will fly by and before i know it, things in the cleavage area will be looking beautiful. i am certainly ready now (mentally, that is) to toss off these shapeless sport bras and put on something flattering. sitting here today, i have no idea what size i am or when i can shop for some new underthings. i simply know that i have not a single bra that matches my new size!

ah, the job search. nothing, nada, nope. not a single response to my many applications for jobs in the past two months. my tired brain leaps for answers. why? i am qualified. i am diligently looking and applying. can what i have to offer rise above the economic crises and the over-stocked portland talent pool? i am beginning to wonder if i am crazy to remain positive and hopeful about finding a job.

i have a few more job postings to apply for today. perhaps the universe just wanted me to get past surgery and into a bright new year? maybe i am just supposed to pursue grad school now? just in case, i am applying for financial aid, to see if it is possible for me to just go to school full time.

oh, i never wanted a crystal ball as much as i do right now!

but that isn't how it works, is it? we must all just go through each day, one day at a time. life takes as long as it takes. the truly difficult challenge is to stay present to each day. the urge to skip ahead and see the future and the tug backwards, processing the past - there is our real work. to just be with what is. i'd love to say i'm there. or here, as the case may be.

i guess the important thing to realize is i am still here, trying. aware of my challenges. working on self-compassion and being present. working on getting out of my head and into my heart. thankful for my health. trying to share my light with others and lift them up.

i saw sandra bernhard on tv last night, when she was asked about her new year's resolutions and her answer really resonates with me. sandra said "i don't do resolutions once a year at new years, it's an everyday thing. every day i try to turn the beat around."i think that fits. in each moment of awareness, i will try to turn the beat around.

happy new year, my friends. thank-you for your faithful support and love. i need you more than you could ever know. may your 2009 be blessed with prosperity, abundant good health and regular reminders of just how very much you are loved.