Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. ~ Albert Schweitzer

The moment of change is the only poem. ~ Adrienne Rich

Dear family and friends,

I write to you today with apologies for not being in direct touch for awhile (the blog doesn’t quite count, I know, and I am sorry), and with hopes that you’ve all been well, taking the time to enjoy some of the finer offerings of the season: the slow, unraveling reveal of the fiddleheads, the rising sun set against the sparkle of dew, the wetland symphonic serenades at dusk, the bursts of buds and blossoms that have set the tops of the trees ablaze in color…

It’s been many weeks now since my last surgery, and I am ever grateful for the good Juju that has come spiraling my way, coursing through my veins and carrying me through the tougher days with light and love from many corners of this earth. Despite a difficult first couple of weeks, I have healed well physically. I regained full motion fairly easily and quickly, found having to be careful and quiet with my activity for the six weeks following surgery maddening, but manageable, and have enjoyed a gradual return to doing whatever feels right: push ups are not on this list. I have returned to Boston for follow-ups with my breast surgeon and oncologist, and several times to Wellesley for nearly weekly expansions with my plastic surgeon. I have been so grateful for their good care, and particularly, for their good news: no post-surgical complications, no need for chemotherapy, and a new left girl, sprouting with the same kind of fury and flamboyance that this springtime revelry has inspired. And a few weeks ago, I returned to Exeter for my 25th reunion, which brought me fully into the light for a few days, a light that has been pulling me through the darkest days of this experience with the promise of dear, old friends gathered from all ends of the earth, for endless talking, dancing, and other deeply sublime weekend adventures.

With the exception of some residual and chronic difficulties with my left knee (still numb, still working it out with the neurologist and spine guy) and sciatica, which has flared up in a way that I have not felt since I was at Exeter, and had to often go flat on my back in the middle of class, my body is regaining its strength and stamina, but it will take some time. I feel so tired at the end of my days, but know, too, that this spring season is rife with overdoing it, in the gardens, the youth sports arena, the over-scheduled everything, and that I am not alone in my fatigue. And given that I’ve been out of commission for a long while, since my knee surgery in January, it’ll be a long time before I feel thoroughly strong again.

The reconstruction process has been comical and fascinating—and very uncomfortable. I never knew skin could be stretched so far! That the body is so resilient and fluid and adapting is amazing to me. And yet, there are trade-offs, always. Along with my skin, my left pectoral muscle, which now sits atop the now over-expanded saline expander, is being stretched, stretched, stretched some more to accommodate an ever-expanding expander. Just yesterday, I received an injection of another 60 ml of saline, to constitute my official second over-expansion. Room must be made, after all, for the expander to come out and for the implant to come in. And from its new perch, this poor messed-with muscle yields considerable influence on some of the other muscles to which it is attached—the psoas, and the lat, for instance, both of which are being pulled in concert with the pec, throwing my whole body into an uncomfortable state of disequilibrium. Hence the sciatica, the worsening knee issues, the overall feeling of soreness. Reconstruction will do that.

Happily, I won’t have to deal with this for much longer. My next surgery will be at Newton Wellesley on June 17—when this bulky, tight, alien expander will be exchanged for a more permanent, comfortable, and realistic looking and feeling silicone implant. The exchange surgery will be a day surgery, so I should be going home that night to sleep off the narcotics and try to get used to yet another new girl. There will be another four weeks of restricted activity and physical healing. I am hoping that I will be better off having gone through something similar before—as it was with my second child, that the body will surrender a little more easily, and recognize that the best way to get through the tougher stuff is sometimes the path of least resistance.

Emotionally, the healing has been more difficult. What’s been most disheartening has been the rush around me to return to some kind of “normal”, which, of course, just isn’t there any more for me. There are some days that come and go as if the breast cancer never happened. And yet it did. Each and every day there are millions of reminders that I am still in the thick of it, with deep work to be done, and that my girl is, that I am, still a work in progress. I am still trying to listen to it all, and to spend some time on the big what’s next. The diagnosis has made me question how I have lived, what I did to bring this on, what I can do differently now to make sure it doesn’t rear its ugly head again. I know, too, that there are unknowns, that shit just happens, is all, but I like answers. It’s the only way I can feel somewhat in control of something that is so entirely out of control and seemingly unpredictable. Finding the time and space to move forward with it all has been more of a challenge—I still need to take care of myself, to listen to all of this—and yet, as is the case for so many of us, the usual flurry of obligatory springtime activity has overshadowed my best efforts, and I feel thwarted and frustrated and spent, searching for snapshots of time when I can reflect, write, do some yoga, try a little meditation, get together with a friend, go for a long walk with Daisy, disengage from the constant clatter and clamor of family life and just be.

The boys are doing okay—better, I think, now that there is soft green grass under their feet for running about, that the temperatures have warmed the chill out of their bones, that they are once again more fully engaged with homeschooling, favorite spring sports, and time with friends, and that they have their mom back. I worry about them, but every mother worries about their kids. I worry about the lasting impact this winter will have on their lives—the disruptions and lost chunks of time, the fears and anxieties they will carry with them, the way their world has been turned upside down. But I know, too, that they have been fortified by this experience in many ways, and that they are stronger because of all the life lessons they’ve received, in living life no matter what you are dealt, in facing things head on, in staying open to the love that shines all about, and in finding the good and the light when there seems to be nothing but deep wells of darkness around you--lessons that I am trying hard to learn myself.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. ~ Sylvia Plath

Part of my recovery must include imagining, discovering and creating a new road map for myself. I have been at the mercy of a cancer patient’s schedule—filled in with doctors’ appointments, surgeries, recovery time, and treatments—for so long (though for so many others out there it is so much longer, so I know, I know I am blessed), that now I need to recreate my own what’s next. For the immediate future, this will include trying to figure out how to tune out the chirping birds at dawn and sleep in properly after staying up way too late cheering the Celtics on; surviving Dominick’s baseball season, which offers up a delectable slice of American life during the seemingly endless three hour plus games that stretch from the sparkling sunshine of the late afternoon to the blinding black fly haze of twilight; finding time to write each and every day (and if I don’t, as my writing prof used to say, forgiving myself); finishing up the homeschool year with a bang, so I don’t feel forever guilty for being such a pox on this homeschooling project and the cause of so much blown time this winter; putting things on the calendar, aside from doctor appointments, so we have plenty to look forward to—family picnics, reunions, summer camps, retreats, and trips; and continuing to research how best to eat, exercise, and live in order to protect myself against recurrence. This is simply not something I ever want to have to go through again.

I have also been considering walking to raise money for breast cancer research, and there are several options. The boys and I were all excited to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-day, which benefits the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and takes place in Boston in August 15-17), but we recently discovered that kids must be 16 in order to participate, and now, well, we just feel deflated. Our team was to be the Blue-Footed Boobies, and I still might walk on my own if I find some walking buddies to join up and complete the walk with me. If there is anyone out there who might consider joining me, I’d love to hear from you. I know there are many of you who have been touched by breast cancer in some way—this is supposed to be an incredibly moving experience, a real personal challenge, and a great way to channel all that good energy into something productive and meaningful. The walk covers 60 miles in three days. Ooofta! The web site covers the details: Just in case I might motivate some of you, I am continuing with my training (and am looking for local walking buddies, too)…

You can still find me at my blog:, and of course in Gill. If you should ever happen to find yourself traveling down Rte 2, 91, or Main Road, please do say hello. It’s been a lonely ride, and I’d love to see you.

I send you all much love, and thank you, as ever, for hanging in there with me,


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