Monday, March 31, 2008

Jim snoops snopes to sniff out urban legend

Leave it my sweet-toothed, red meat-fed, milk-swilling husband to be a super sleuth and refute the last post about Johns Hopkins' cancer claims. Thanks, Jim, for setting us straight. For more info, click here:

That said, I personally believe that there's probably some truth to what the bit contained--though of course, I don't eat dairy products (though if it is indeed the mucus cancer feeds on, then any one of my allergies could be responsible), red meat, or much sugar, and I still got cancer. But that would be a painfully silly over-simplification of a very complicated monster, and as we all know, there's a whole lot of things we don't know, and a whole lot of things we can't control. The gist is trying to control, within reason, what you can, and letting go of the other stuff. Living within ten miles of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant puts us in direct line with all the nasty nuclear ooze; but living in the valley also puts in direct line with lots of amazing health-giving resources: organic farms & CSAs, beautiful landscapes, clean air (hey--it's all relative--Franklin County made the cut), and that undeniably hipster funky progressive vibe that makes it easy for us to be ourselves. Just keeping it real, man.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't want to move someplace a bit warmer right now. Because I would.

It's been a full day--a visit to the chiropractor (and I drove myself, tenderly), a return to homeschooling, and visits from the visiting nurse, the occupational therapist, and my friend, Nancy, who treated me to a relaxing massage! The phone rang throughout the day, docs trying to fix appointments, which have finally materialized. Next Monday, April 7: I meet with breast doc, plastic surgeon, and medical oncologist, not all at once, but one after the other, and find out what my updated road map looks like. The chemo question is starting to weigh heavily. So...

...My friend Dan says the key is to watch as many funny movies as you can. So, I'm off to watch the 40-year old Virgin. Dominick has been primed. We do love Steve Carrell. And I'm thinking this will be better than Knocked Up. Wish Juno were out on DVD. It all started with a chair...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sun, Sun, Sun Here it Comes!

If I took you darling
To the caverns of my heart
Would you light the lamp dear?
Would you light the lamp dear?
And see fish without eyes
Bats with their heads
Hanging down towards the ground
Would you still come around
Come around?
~ Laura Veirs, Spelunking

Happy Sunday, sunny afternoon to all. I've decided to focus on the best parts of the day, and leave out the rest (two words: crying jags). The sun figured pretty big in the best parts of the day, and I am, as ever, a devoted sun freak. The bright lovely sun made it possible to take a walk with Dominick on the Mount Hermon campus, a long loop that brought us above the rim of campus for beautiful mountain views and to a perch above the melting snowfields below. Upon our return, I sat on our deck and did nothing but let the glorious sun warm the inner pockets of fear that have had an icy grip on me of late. Life, spurred on by the ache of promise in the spiraling sunshine, spilled its sounds all around me: the red-winged blackbirds chirped noisily in the evergreens, the squirrel made mad dashes down the tree to steal birdseed, each time releasing cones and melting snow from the branches that cascaded down the trunk to hit the ground with a soft stuttering clatter, and Daisy snoozed quietly next to me, every so often releasing a barely audible bark-chirp, or a tongue-suck, before sinking deeper into the soft snow. Later, Luke and I took in the afternoon sun, playing a couple of hands of Rummy, and laughing at Daisy, who happily paraded about with her new pink-lipped frisbee folded in her mouth, looking like Ronald McDonald. It felt like a real treat. The sun warmed our seats and the table that sat between us, and the wind cooperated--usually when we try to play outside, the wind blasts our cards all over the place. But not today--not even a ripple. Thank you sun.

Speaking of Ronald McDonald...and hamburgers, and eating far too many of them when I was growing up...I've copied an email my friend Nancy sent to me below. It's very interesting, and offers much to think about, especially as I head into the treatment phase of my breast cancer. I figured early on that it's not very useful to try to figure out why, after all these years of trying to eat as well as I can, of trying to keep my body healthy, why I suddenly got breast cancer--but I have thought deeply about the layers of lessons wrapped up in my diagnosis, and know that there are ways I have not taken good care of myself, and not honored my self. The beauty is that there are now, as there are always, opportunities for making changes in my life that will allow me to better take care of myself, fulfill my needs, and open my spirit; balancing the many different areas of my life while nourishing and nurturing my spirit, body, and mind will be a challenge, indeed, but I do believe it is the key to wellness and a full recovery. I'll be exploring all treatment options, and making some tough choices. And I welcome your guidance and wisdom! What follows is just a start. With LOVE.


Cancer Update from John Hopkins

1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion.
When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.

2. Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person's lifetime

3. When the person's immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors

4. When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors.

5. To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system

6. Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.

7. Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.

8. Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.

9 When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications.

10. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.

11. An effective way to battle cancer is to starve the cancer cells by not feeding it with the foods it needs to multiply.

a. Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal,Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful.
A better natural substitute would be Manuka honey or molasses but only in very small amounts. Table salt has a chemical added to make it white in color. Better alternative is Bragg's aminos or sea salt.

b. Milk causes the body to produce mucus, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucus. By cutting off milk and substituting with unsweetened soya milk cancer cells are being starved.

c. Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork.
Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.

d. A diet made of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains,seeds, nuts and a little fruits help put the body into an alkaline environment.
About 20% can be from cooked food including beans. Fresh vegetable juices provide live enzymes that are easily absorbed and reach down to cellular levels within 15 minutes to nourish and enhance growth of healthy cells.
To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice (most vegetables including bean sprouts)and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of
104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

e. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate, which have high caffeine.Green tea is a better alternative and has cancer-fighting properties. Water-best to drink purified water, or filtered, to avoid known toxins and heavy metals in tap water. Distilled water is acidic, avoid it.

12. Meat protein is difficult to digest and requires a lot of digestive enzymes. Undigested meat remaining in the intestines become putrified and leads to more toxic buildup.

13. Cancer cell walls have a tough protein covering. By refraining from or eating less meat it frees more enzymes to attack the protein walls of cancer cells and allows the body's killer cells to destroy the cancer cells.

14. Some supplements build up the immune system (IP6, Flor-ssence,Essiac, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, EFAs etc.) to enable the body's own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E are known to cause apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the body's normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells.

15. Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor. Anger, unforgiveness and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.

16. Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily, and deep breathing help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level. Oxygen therapy is another means employed to destroy cancer cells.

1. No plastic containers in micro.
2. No water bottles in freezer.
3. No plastic wrap in microwave.
Johns Hopkins has recently sent this out in its newsletters. This information is being circulated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as well.
Dioxin chemicals causes cancer, especially breast cancer. Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies.Don't freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic.
Recently, Dr. Edward Fujimoto, Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital , was on a TV program to explain this health hazard. He talked about dioxins and how bad they are for us.. He said that we should not be heating our food in the microwave using plastic containers.

This especially applies to foods that contain fat. He said that the combination of fat, high heat, and plastics releases dioxin into the food and ultimately into the cells of the body. Instead, he recommends using glass, such as Corning Ware, Pyrex or ceramic containers for heating food.
You get the same results, only without the dioxin. So such things as TV dinners, instant ramen and soups, etc., should be removed from the container and heated in something else.
Paper isn't bad but you don't know what is in the paper. It's just safer to use tempered glass, Corning Ware, etc. He reminded us that a while ago some of the fast food restaurants moved away from the foam containers to paper. The dioxin problem is one of the reasons.
Also, he pointed out that plastic wrap, such as Saran, is just as dangerous when placed over foods to be cooked in the microwave. As the food is nuked, the high heat causes poisonous toxins to actually melt out of the plastic wrap and drip into the food. Cover food with a paper towel instead.

This is an article that should be sent to anyone important in your life.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Inaugural Shower

Everyone who's ever taken a shower has an idea. It's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference. ~ Nolan Bushnell

It was a long shower. I didn't care much about how much hot water I was using. I didn't rush. I had things to learn, push through, bring back into me.

I unravel myself slowly, taking in deep breaths and sideways glances before allowing myself a full all-out stare in the wide mirror that stands before me. It seems strange, indeed, to unwrap my bandages myself, slowly, the layers falling to the floor like candy ribbons. I feel anticipation, a bit of fear, some sadness. Beneath the gauze and nonstick pads, the drain site under my arm looks clear and dry--nothing coming out, nothing to soak up--the drain had done its job. Something new: I am purple now, the bruises cycling through their colors in bright fashion, leaving splotches of dark purple discolorations here and there, under and above the new breast that sits like a bare nipple-less small hill atop my stretching skin. I see that the incision is pocketed with a touch of edema on the lateral end, most likely where the drain had previously reached and suctioned the excess fluid off and out. My pectoral muscle, still swollen and sore and twitching, lacks the purple bruising that the rest of my chest wears like a face paint gone awry. Perhaps the Arnica gel that I've been putting on it faithfully has reduced the bruising to a faint yellow; I will use the Arnica on the purple patches in my garden and see if I can grow some softer colors.

I gingerly climb into the shower, where the water gently gathers steam against my skin and starts to make its usual waterfalls. Inside the curtained shower, I stand alone. I lean back into the stream and let the water course over my head until my hair is completely wet. With gentle circular strokes, I wash my long hair with both hands and fingertips, my left hand hovering at shoulder height while my head dips down to let the right hand do most of the work. It takes a couple of washings and rinsings, and as I comb the conditioner through the tangled mess, I think that it might be time for me to cut my hair again. Now, soap. I start slowly, on the left side, with right hand moving slowly, and I am acutely aware of the resistance in my chest wall muscles, the pull of tightness cautioning me to limit the stretch of limb, the twist of torso. I switch hands, and for the first time since the surgery, I must touch the mastectomy site, all of it, the purple patches, the incision, the drain site, the sprouting saline expander, the swollen pec, the ugliness, the beauty. My pec is fairly numb to touch--not surprising, given the residual neuropathy I still deal with since the minor knee surgery I had 8 weeks ago. But the skin still feels soft, familiar, mine. There is comfort in that. My left arm pit is happy for the soap; it's been a while since it's been able to open pores and fully breathe. What is missing is glaring and obvious: my left breast, my nipple. I am glad that the the water washes away my tears, and the sound of the shower muffles my cries, though they are quiet and do not last long. My right breast looks so alone, solitary, vulnerable. She's lost her twin, her balance. What will she think of the new one growing in the purple garden patch? I do hope they like each other.

I shave my legs, and curse the unsteadiness I feel when standing on one leg. As well, my hands are clumsy, and my head still feels boggy, but the now that I've gotten through the difficult part of having to navigate through the uncharted terrain of my new body, I am enjoying the rush of hot water, the enveloping steam, the quiet of the curtained space. What would Lewis and Clark say about this new territory? A seared stream of brush atop a lonely hilltop surrounded by a scrub of purple forests...quite lovely, but strange and unexpected, too, as if odd beasts lurked about... Or Darwin? I imagine he'd have a reaction similar to his first days on the Galapagos Islands: Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life.

Actually, Lewis and Clark's expedition and the Voyage of the Beagle aside, there's something about my body that is oddly reminding me of Lord Voldemort's rebirth. Not that I have any intention at turning to the dark side and giving the Dark Lord a run for his money, quite the contrary, but there is something about my sudden transformation--and future reconstruction--that brings up his own for me, though I suspect that it will not be Harry Potter's blood I need but something else entirely that I'll need for my garden to thrive, for my body and soul to complete its metamorphosis. Perhaps it is the draw of the magic, or the elements of love and friendship and loyalty, and the undying strength of familial bonds, or haha, the use of anagrams (his I am Lord Voldemort to my zilrendrag); whatever it is, there it is, knocking on my head, and making me think I'd rather affiliate my current transformation with that belonging to someone else (the Hungry Caterpillar, for instance). I have been known to power through quite a bit of food on Saturdays...

Reluctantly, I turn the water off, grab my towel, and begin to pat myself dry, ever so carefully. Everything looks as if it is healing well, but for the purple and the small sack at the end of the incision, which can serve as my temporary, albeit oddly-shaped and a bit left-of-center, nipple until I get my new one in a few months. I am grateful for my first shower, for the chance to step out of the buffer of the bandages and take a hard look at my scars. I am glad, too, for the removal of the drain and especially for the chance to swap Advil for the Vicodin; I am eager to regain a sense of balance, clarity, mobility that will make future showers a bit more productive. And in a strange way, as I pull a tank top over my head, and try to get used to the new feeling of being bare and unbandaged, I am grateful for this vulnerability, this feeling of protectiveness, that focuses its energy around me like a charm, and allows me to imagine a new me, move forward into the possibilities that lie ahead, and complete the metamorphosis--before the call to change awakens my better senses again and sends me down another spiraling path of self-discovery.

Later: we have just returned from a walk in the woods on this bright, chill day. I am so aware of the shortcomings of my lungs right now, it is very discouraging. The inconsistent depths of snow warrants a slow surety, and I am glad for the excuse to take it easy. We found a wooly bear caterpillar, its brown black coat in stark contrast to the white of the snow he was inching along. I picked him up, and placed him, all balled up, in the softer, warmer dead leaves under a tree. I wonder where he was headed, and whether he'll be able to complete his own transformation, given the harshness of winter's extended stay. Come spring, come green grass spring, I'll be on the lookout for an Isabella Moth...

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change."
— Charles Darwin

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Evening Happy Hour

It’s Friday afternoon and I have some things to celebrate. Not in particular order, but here we go:

Luke survived his wilderness overnight. I was a bit worried—given that it began snowing last night and continued into the morning and I was feeling cold and wet for him and hoped, hoped that he was warm and dry but knew there was a big possibility that he wasn’t. I am proud of him for putting up with it all—and was awfully glad to have him home again, home again, jiggity jig, to climb into a hot tub, drink some chocolately cocoa, and unwind from what must have been a fairly intense night. He's growing up quickly, but I am still grateful for the times when I can scrub his back in the tub, put some marshmallows in his cocoa, and just be there to listen. And with all this other stuff going on, it was nice to just be a mom—instead of a patient—for a change.

My waning patience for being a patient aside, I am making strides towards being a survivor, and here’s why:

The drain is out. Hurrah! The damned drain is out. Actually, to be fair, it wasn’t such a horrible drain. Not even a nasty drain, because it did its job, and really, when I imagine what post-op must have been like for so many people before the drain was invented, well, it must have been a bit of a nasty mess. I may just get a little nostalgic about my drain; after all, it was tethered to me for nearly a week, suctioning and draining the excess blood from inside the wound and delivering it to through thin plastic tubing to its resting place, a plastic squeezy bulb (hence, the turkey baster comparison) that I emptied, measured and recorded several times a day, reminiscent of keeping track of feedings after giving birth (which, of course, got so ridiculous after a while, given the inability of my babies to get on any kind of a schedule ever, and the sheer number and length of feedings that they required—making any kind of record-keeping impossible and silly). Despite its efficiency and importance to a smooth healing process, the drain really is a rather simple device, something a toddler might like to play with in the tub, for instance, or a makeshift way to demonstrate air pressure in a third grade classroom (or as part of a homeschool project! Damn! Opportunity missed!)—but because it plays such a critical in post-operative healing, it has earned a very distinguished name, the Jackson-Pratt Drain (otherwise known as the JP Drain; see, though I have no idea who Jackson or Pratt were (the lucky inventors? Beloved cats of the inventors?)

Dr. Pitts—the wonderful plastic surgeon—has been keeping an eye on the drain from afar. I’ve had to call her office every morning to let her know what my collection rates have been, and once they were under 30 ml in a 24 hour period, then the drain could come out. The visiting nurse, Sara, has been coming each and every day, to change my bandages, check on the drain, and make sure everything is healing up well. She’s been amazing. Her visits have been very reassuring to me—and this morning I realized that my last collection tally was at 18 ml, which put me under the magic mark, so when Sara came at noontime, I wanted her to verify that it was indeed time for the drain to come out. And she did. A quick call to Dr. Fox’s office in Greenfield, and it was scheduled to come out at 3:30 this afternoon. I am very grateful for Dr. Fox and his nurse Ruth—they welcomed me into their office with so much warmth and kindness, took the time to hear how I was doing, answer my questions, listen to my concerns, and offer their services—putting in a port before chemo treatment, being there for any kind of assistance I might need throughout this process—and took out the drain, with care and precision. It smarted, to be sure, and it’ll continue to drain a bit at the site for a couple of days, but it also feels really good to have it out, as if I’ve just taken a big step forward. Adios, JP Drain. Hasta la vista, baby.

The good news is that now that the drain is out, I can take a shower tomorrow. A shower! Sponge baths just don’t cut it. Tomorrow, I can take all the bandages off without having to worry about getting the drain tube snagged on something, I can feel the steamy heat open my pores and warm me up, I can let the water run down and actually soap up a bit. I still can’t wash my hair by myself, and I’ll be tender and sore (pat dry, pat dry) and you know, being with my new naked self in the shower is going to take some getting used to, and there are things that will feel scary and strange. But it’s progress, and I’ll bask, or bathe, or shower, actually, in that.

Afterwards, I only have to bandage up the old drain site. A simple gauze pad with bacitracin, or a big bandaid. Without the compression wrap around me, I’ll be able to fill my lungs a little more easily, and breathe in and out without feeling the pinch of the wrap and the soreness of my chest. Maybe my sore gimpy throat will finally heal up, and my voice will return back to normal. I don't really like sounding like a whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking broad. And without the drain, I can now ditch the Vicodin, which makes me constipated, loopy, and dopey, and switch to Advil, which I hope will be the next step in restoring my digestive system back to its usual balance. Of course, since I’m still on antibiotics, and it is my third consecutive course at that, I may have to wait a bit before things are entirely back in sync.

I also spoke with the pathologist at Mass General today, a super nice guy named Todd Abbott, and he gave me good news: after slicing and dicing and staining and doing all their magic tricks, the lymph nodes showed absolutely no signs of cancer. It’s reassuring to know that in addition to examining the frozen section of the nodes during surgery, they also re-examine that as well as every bit of tissue that is removed, using every test they’ve got. As well, he said that they found a small amount of residual invasive cancer around the original lumpectomy sample—so my decision to have a mastectomy was the right one, and the cancer is out, all out, the margins are clear, all clear, and that is good news, indeed. My doctors will get the report on Monday; lucky me that I got to talk to Dr. Abbott himself today, and did not have to wait to receive this good news. Progress.

It’s dinnertime, and my mother and I are about to sit down to a delicious dinner cooked by my friend Gina. Chicken, ginger carrots, mashed potatoes. It doesn’t get any better. Gina has graciously and generously offered to organize some community meals on wheels for us, and I appreciate it so much! Thank you, Gina. It’s hard to explain how much it means to me—to all of us—to have people thinking of me and actually taking the time out to cook us a meal, send flowers, write a sweet card, drop by for a visit, or take a second and send some good Juju my way. It’s made all the difference in the fact that I feel strong and positive today, and am making progress towards a full recovery.

Our trees were flooded with blackbirds today, red-winged mostly, hundreds of them, who flew in flocks from trees to feeders to ground to eat the seed we’d just put out and sing their songs of spring. Outside, walking to the car to head to the Aloha-Drain-Stop, their calls were deafening, and so awesome! It rivaled the spring peepers and wood frogs that will fill our wetlands in a few weeks—in volume and pitch and an expansive sonic beauty that filled the whole area with a fervent proclamation that spring is coming, despite the three inches of new wet snow on the ground, that it will be here, and soon, and with it, will bring change and growth and the promise of something better. That’s something that we can all look forward to.

A bird does not sing because he has an answer. He sings because he has a song.
~ Joan Walsh Anglund

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. --Emerson

It’s my mother’s birthday today. I think she almost forgot, given where her head has been lately, and I just want to send a more public shout out to her that she has been an amazing help and source of support and strength for me and I am so grateful for her—for each and every one of her 68 years, since they’ve brought her to this time, this place, here with me. Thank you, Mom. Happy Birthday. I love you.

We’ve just come back from my first walk since surgery, and it felt good to be out breathing in fresh air, and seeing some real signs that spring will indeed share her colors and new life with us soon. The road was muddy underfoot, and water was draining everywhere, the beaver pond in our back woods overflowing with melting ice and stream water, filling the vernal pools and rushing through the culverts here and there. Flocks of little songbirds alighted on trees, still bare against soft skies, and filled the air with their choruses. The crocuses are busting through the old leaves and debris that has mulched and littered the garden since fall, and Daisy’s tennis balls and Luke’s golf balls are suddenly appearing in the cruddy mud-lawn, unearthed by the melting snow, their bright yellows and whites seeming stark and surprising against the dull blahs of the March palette. It seems old man winter may pay us a visit tonight, to make everything seem pretty again, with a dusting of snow, just in time for Luke’s overnight as part of his regular Thursday wilderness program in Dummerston, Vermont—I suppose sleeping on snow is more comfortable than mud? I imagine it’ll be quite lovely when they awake, all snuggled together in the shelter they’ve been building all winter, and the breakfast they cook over their camp stove will be even more delicious than anything they’ve ever tasted before. Luke learned the fine art of carving venison (against the grain, always go against the grain) a week ago, and they’ve been promised some for breakfast. Dominick has opted to come back home tonight after a long day romping through the woods, working on his carving, making cool forts with his friends, and expending an amount of energy that I can only dream of…

It’s day two for me at home. After a tumultuous afternoon and evening yesterday, I was happy for some peace in my belly today. There’s a good reason the nurses in the hospital always ask their post-op patients if they’ve peed or passed gas yet, or enjoyed their inaugural bowel movement (would you rather I say poop? caca? bm? #2?). The anesthesia drugs, as well as the pain meds, slow everything down—so that all systems relax and take a breather. And often times, it takes those same systems a while to get back in the full swing of things. Such was the case with me, and yesterday afternoon, after having taken a few Senecot-S meds, I was having the worst cramping of my life—it actually felt like labor pains, contractions that came every five minutes or so, and lasted ten or twenty seconds. Finally, though, it cleared me right out, but I wish I had taken a different route, and after talking to my plastic surgeon, Dr. Pitts, who graciously and kindly took the call herself, I realized I should have called her first (duh, Liz), rather than suffer the consequences of my impulsive intake of senna, an herb known for its troublesome cramping side effects. The trick is to be able to take the Vicodin, which bloats my belly and slows everything down but takes the pain away, away, and still be able to keep things moving. Hence the walk this afternoon. And maybe some Milk of Magnesia later tonight. Oy. This is just not like me. Too much information? Sorry!

The visiting nurse, Sarah, came back again this morning to change the bandages, which was a good thing, because I had bled through several near where the Jackson-Pratt drain inserts under my arm (the one place I have not yet looked) and the bandages had slipped down considerably, loosened by all my howling agony over the ridiculous cramping and rushing to the bathroom (outta my way! outta my way!). This time, I looked fairly square on at the wound, not yet in the mirror, but just from above, where just a few days ago there was the soft roundness of a breast, small, but curved, despite its recent run-in with the surgeon. Now, there is a small rounded stretch of skin, an incision that actually looks far better than I thought it would (and not nearly as long), and some swelling and bruising that hopefully, will improve each and every day. I looked down a second time, and saw that my pectoral muscle on the left side is very swollen and bruised, and is making little twitching motions, as if suffering from a bit of PTSD post-operatively. Since my pec is bugged, the muscles on the other side of my shoulder are bugged as well, and my range of motion is pretty shot right now, but I know that too will improve. The nurse has said she has ordered some PT and OT for me, at home, which will be very helpful. In the meantime, I keep smearing Arnica gel over the swollen area, with hopes that it will help. Sarah will be back tomorrow, at which time she’ll be training someone (my mother? Jim? me?) to change my bandages over the weekend. This will be interesting, maybe a little frightening, because I think I'll have to look a little longer, and maybe I will notice something else I didn't notice today. I think I can do most of it myself, but there’s much precision wrapping and laborious mummifying that has to be done, a bit like getting the Christmas lights around and around the branches of the tree just so, so I suspect I will need help. And then there’s the drain site. Do I really want to look at that? Since it’s open to infection, bacitracin has to be put on the gauze before covering it up. These are the things that typically make me faint dead away. Somehow, though, this is different. This is my new skin, my new shell. Time to get used to it. And I suppose I’ll have to look at the drain site, too, eventually. Maybe not today, maybe tomorrow. It won’t be there forever, so I’m not as intent on making its acquaintance. The new me, the transitioning me, is someone I have to get to know. But it was enough today to look down, not away, while Sarah took the bandages off, to take it in, to scan my left side, and to realize that I look, and feel, very different. More like a lizard, perhaps, than a human. Which is okay, I think. I like lizards, don’t you? I think it’s the absence of the nipple that is so alarming. And the lack of symmetry and balance, and the loss of the rounded softness there, makes me feel—and look—a little deformed, and well, mutilated. But there’s a happy side to it, too. I know this probably saved my life, and I am grateful for these scars. Though I’ve lost this part of me, perhaps, in letting it go, it has given me new life, and made me whole again.

It’s amazing how much better you can feel after you wash your hair. Sorry, can’t go out tonight, I’ve got to stay in and wash my hair! My mother helped me wash my hair this morning in the kitchen sink, and it felt so good to have it clean again, a bit bouncier in its usual springy wavy curl shape. There are more grays than ever poking through, especially on the top, where my darker winter roots provide a better contrast for those grays to be seen, spotted, and yanked. The last time I saw my hair dresser, she asked me if I had been under a lot of stress lately. “You’ve got a lot more grays than before.” Stress? Who, me? I figure I can accept the grays as part of my passage—and if they really start to bug me, I’ll highlight them the hell out of there. Right?

It’s also amazing how much better you can feel after a visit from a dear, old friend. My friend Dana Weeder, from Exeter and Williams, came to visit today, and it was so great to be able to sit and talk and get caught up and not feel like some freak in a hospital gown. And he brought flowers, too, lovely lilies that have filled the house with their beautiful springtime scent. And the best part was that he didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with this new, different me, this mastectomied, misshapen, me. Maybe because he’s an architect, he’s used to things being under construction? Thank you, Dana! I do believe that these little pick-me-ups—a visit from the nurse, a re-bandaging, clean hair, a visit from an old friend, a walk in the woods with your mom and your dog—can and will make all the difference in the world, and will be critical to my recovery.

It’s dinnertime, and now, well, I’m missing my boys. I am eager to be strong enough to resume our homeschooling adventures. I miss our math sessions in front of the woodstove, talking about the finer points of Homer’s use of epithets (zilrendrag the mighty lizard-dragon queen slew her demon breast cancer in a heroic battle of wits), practicing Spanish together, discovering new ancestors, researching ancient civilizations and creating our own, collaborating on stories using our Boggle-licious words, making art, just being together. Heck! I even miss yelling at the boys to stop playing basketball upstairs while I’m trying to write on the ‘puter! It’s been a long haul of interruptions and doctor’s visits and emotional releases and stress of all sorts, and it will feel blessed and charmed when we can regain some surety in our footsteps, walking through each day with more spring and direction. We are nearly Skyped, and will look forward to making face to face contact with those of you who are afloat in the Skype-sphere.

And wanderlust, that restless, roving sister of mine, has sprinkled her magic dust over me, igniting a desire to shed some clothes and old travel routes for the roads less traveled, where I might discover a new richness to life where before was lacking, and maybe, just maybe, that left breast of mine will re-flower, opening to capture light and love and all that fills our cups. It’d be lovely to see you all in person. So, day by day, bit by bit. Thanks for being there with me.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods. --Byron


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Surgery went well ~ Back home to detox & heal

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

It’s Wednesday morning, and happily, I’m back at home, feeling relieved that this next step is behind me. The surgery went well—no cancer in the lymph nodes (and they had to remove two, since two seemed to be sharing sentinel node duty), and no other surprises or complications--and it seems as if time will continue to heal my wounds and eventually lift me out of this over-medicated state of feeling not at all like myself. I am sore—mostly in the chest region, under my left arm, and shoulders and back, both of which have never responded well to so much bed rest—but Vicodin is taking the edge off, and making me feel a little woozy, clumsy, and spaced out. I’m wrapped in a tight layer of bandages and compression tape, and am finding it hard to breathe deeply. Turning or twisting or activating any of the core muscles on my left side brings about instant ouch, but it’s gotten better. I’m still feeling wiped out, there’s still a lot of strange medicine coursing through my veins, and I just took off the scopolamine patch (an anti-nausea patch you wear behind your ear), and am feeling some symptoms of withdrawal—a bit of nausea, dizziness, blurry vision, and yes, the floor is pitching, as if I were still trying to find my sea legs on the anesthesia boat, rollicking on the waves of nausea. My throat is irritated all over again from the breathing tube, which has also left me with an ulcerated fat lip, and I’ve been hacking up a bit of phlegm. Lovely, I know, I know. I am sorry I am being so graphic. But that’s what it is. Think of it like a wicked bad hangover, the worst you’ve ever had, from a 10-hour long happy hour in the hospital, endless cocktails of meds, intense over-stimulation, and no time to sleep or eat. So—apologies ahead of time if my thoughts are not as clearly articulated as I would like them to be. I am aware of an area of hollowness under the bandage on the left side, whereas the right side feels like my usual filled out self. My girl is gone, alas, but I’m on my way. On my way, no looking back. Things are better today than they were yesterday, and they'll be better tomorrow. If I didn't believe that, I couldn't get through this day, or look to tomorrow.

On Sunday night, we stayed at the Marriott in Newton, and when we arrived at our rooms and walked out onto the balcony, which looked over the Charles River, a huge white swan swam over to us, and immediately started to trawl for food on the bottom of the river along the edge closest to us. We were reminded of watching pink flamingos on a few of the Galápagos Islands, flamingos that would gather food the same way, leaving visible trails along the bottom. It seemed a good omen.

Despite my best efforts to get a good night’s sleep before the surgery, it proved an impossible task. It’s not that I was horribly anxious, but I was filled with much anticipation—similar to what I used to feel on Christmas Eve, or before a ski race, when I was a kid, and butterflies would find their way into my belly, my breathing would become shallow, and my mind would fill with spinning thoughts. As well, my stomach was feeling the pinch, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning, I realized I had just gotten my period. After months of dealing with irregular cycles, my menses decides to regulate itself this month almost perfectly with the full moon, day 28. What great timing! (nearly as wonderful as getting my period at the start of my honeymoon, having to arrange one of the Antigua islanders to buy me some tampons in the village, and picking them up later that night from "Alex" at the bar, who had wrapped the box in a brown paper bag. "Got anything for me?" ) I added it to my list of things I would need to talk to the nurses about in pre-op. Make sure you position my neck so it's straight, and one other thing, too: Sorry, but you’re going to have to put one of those big fat pads under my butt, too.

My mother drove me to NWH, which was about five minutes away. Jim would come with the boys later, after I had checked in, and had been taken to Nuclear Medicine for my injection of dye directly into the left breast, which would then illuminate the sentinel node(s) for biopsy. I checked in to pre-op, was asked my name and birthdate about ten times by ten different people, met the usual array of anesthesiologist, nurses, and med students, and signed a bunch of documents to ensure that I would not sue anyone in case something went wrong. The anesthesiologist told me I looked nervous (“Wouldn’t you be?” I believe was my response, difficult patient that I am) and asked me if I wanted a little something to help me relax. Drug pushers, all of them. “No,” I told him, “I need to ride this out.” With all the over-medicating that is done in hospitals, and the amount of medicine that has been prescribed for me and offered to me these past weeks by different doctors, I have grown concerned about the potentially dangerous combination of drugs in my system—and the possibility of the Heath Ledger-effect, mixing anti-depressants with sleep aides and pain killers. With that on my mind, I figured that I would try to minimize all the narcotics in my system. Why anyone would actually seek out this feeling of being drugged and clumsy and out of it is beyond me.

I met with Dr. Pitts in pre-op, and she seemed eager and awake—all good things for such an early start. Dr. Specht was running late (and I love this, truly: she had a parent-teacher conference that morning) and it was okay with me—and I do believe I was waiting for her in the Nuclear Medicine room when all that groovy Juju found me. The anxiety that I had felt just walking into the pre-op room—where doctors and nurses buzzed about, patients were being wheeled in left and right, and where my little gurney bed sat, awaiting my body and warm blankets—had dissipated, and as I sat waiting for Dr. Specht, I changed into my johnnies and special no-slip socks and felt a calmness about the morning that would made me believe I had nothing to fear, and that every little thing was going to be all right. So thank you to all who were able to get up early and breathe with me. I honestly felt you with me, and it made a huge difference.

Dr. Specht finished the injection quickly and efficiently before escorting us all back to pre-op, which was surprisingly quiet. I climbed into the gurney and under warm blankets, said hasta la vista, baby to my family, and just minutes before being wheeled into the OR, caught a glimpse of a familiar face: Mark Rounds, a fellow Exie, walking about and looking very surgeon-like (he heads up the hospital’s plastic surgery and eye, ear, nose and throat divisions). I called to him, and after a brief hello, he promised to come up to see me later in the day. I figure—some of that Juju materialized in the form of a familiar face, and again, I was put at ease, cradled in the knowledge that I was going to be well taken care of.

As soon as the sleepy-meds hit me through the IV, I was out. Out. No resistance whatsoever. The waves rolled in and out, the sand was soft and warm under my feet. I was putty. And after not sleeping much the night before, I knew I would not, could not resist (not with a bat or a cat, a tree or a knee), and feeling the avalanche of fatigue wrestle me no more, I surrendered quickly, and that’s the last I remember.

I came-to several hours later (though it felt like seconds) in post-op, surrounded by curtains, a few nurses who kept coming in to see if I slipped back into my trance, and the loud snores of the guy next to me, who had just had a hip replacement done For a split second, I thought perhaps I was home, but soon the buzz of the hospital sharpened, and I knew that I wasn’t hearing the mating calls of crickets or spring peepers, the dog barking, or Jim snoring, but rather the squeak of the gurney wheels, the hushed voices of the nurses and docs, and my neighbor, snoring away in his bliss.

That first hour felt a bit like trying to wake up and wrap your head around the past hours after a truly horrible night of partying, (and please, don't let anyone tell me you have no idea what I'm talking about) and you just want to close your eyes and go back to sleep, but there’s a big chunk of time missing from your memory, and you’re trying desperately to piece together what happened, and your mouth is all glommy, cottony yuck, your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, your body feels deeply bruised, beaten up, and fatigued, your vision is blurry, and the ceiling is moving in and out and all about, making it impossible for your head is search for possible explanations as to just where am I and how did I get here? Just what did I do last night? The classic post-rugby match Sunday morning wake up call. But I’m so much older now. And it hurts much worse. Much.

I tried to shut out the dancing ceiling, closing my eyes to try to snatch some sleep here and there, each time keeping them open them a little longer, and hoping that the ceiling would stop moving about like a pulsating, sweaty crowd-filled, disco floor. Eventually, I was able to suck some cranberry juice through a straw, the snoring bionic guy next to me finally woke up and ceased his rumbles, and I was given some pain meds, which thrust me deeper into a Narcotic Narnia, where Mr. Tumnus came with his friend to wheel me to my room before saying good luck and good bye to me in their native tongue, and Hobbiton nurses offered me tea in the form of IV meds and cookies in the form of drier than desert saltine crackers that I could simply not get down. Which way to the wardrobe?

Gradually, bit by bit, throughout that first afternoon, I experienced and shed some of the effects of the anesthesia drugs; watched, for the first time, my drain be emptied, a dark red; felt the rush of anti-nausea meds in my IV (just when I was about to urp); and praised and cursed the trappings and workings of modern American medicine. I used the bathroom for the first time, but with all systems slowed by the drugs, it was a pitiful task, and later that night, my nurse Laurie—who would prove to be an amazing care taker—would have check my output with a bladder scan, and then drain the rest with a catheter (my first, amazing how it worked). Sometime in the expanse of hospital time that afternoon, my head slowly stopped whirling about, I took my first (assisted) steps to the bathroom (ouch!), and I was able to greet my first visitors: my mother, Jim and the boys—it was great to see everyone, my three little birds. Dinner came and went, uneaten, on my tray. The only things I could successfully chew and swallow, given the acute dryness of my desert mouth, were jello and apple sauce. At some point, Dominick and Luke went with Jim to grab themselves dinner and buy some edibles for me from the nearby Whole Foods: goat’s milk yogurt, rite rounds crackers, and chicken vegetable soup. My step-mother, Martha, arrived for a visit, and it was great to have her there for a bit before she and my mother left to get dinner together. Jim and the boys returned with food (hurrah!), and they all helped me get washed up and ready to ah, sleep? Is it possible to actually sleep in a hospital? Gawd, it was like another big party gone wrong.

By this time, I had a roommate, a woman a little older than I, who was discussing her surgery and aches and pains with her partner. Luke overheard her mention that they had “shaved off all her pubic hair,” and at once became convinced that she had had a sex-change operation. Actually, it was only a hysterectomy, not nearly as interesting, I suppose, as a sex-change. I suppose Luke might have had it on his mind, given that one of the last SSAT words he’s practiced and learned was androgyny.

Jim and the boys said good night, and I began to think there might be a way for me to sleep—but my neighbor’s guests arrived, including her three year old nephew in his fire truck, which he proceeded to ride back and forth from hallway, past my bed, and to the end of his aunt’s. Vrooom, vroom. Both my neighbor and her partner were coughing constantly. Up and down to the bathroom. Lights off and on. Nurses arrived every 30 minutes to take vitals, administer more drugs, wake me up, ask me if I had been passing gas ( I felt like a newborn—have you eaten, peed, pooped, slept?). I tried to sleep, but only dozed in between disruptions. When my father and his new wife Mimi arrived, they brought a lovely little bouquet of daffodils and baby breath—from one of their wedding bouquets the week before—and a beautifully colored ceramic lizard from Mexico, their honeymooning spot. It was nice to see them, and have the lizard to cheer me up, and a touch of spring in the room, which had, in its dire darkness and endless stream of white coats, managed to block out all sense of a world outside, and made it difficult to remember that the sun was out there, somewhere, that healing was possible, and that sleep would come. Or not.

My night nurse, Laurie, was stellar—attentive, caring, and funny. She took good care of me that first night. I was so grateful for her for helping me get through that first night—with its softer buzz and shadowy silences, the endless awakenings and disruptions, the manic nature of the midnight brigade of fears, pain, and strangeness. I was glad to see the morning sun start to liven up the room; night over, I could finally begin my heal-about, my plan to recapture my good health. Juanita tried to convince me to order a lot of food for breakfast and lunch, but I doubted that was part of the plan. Hospital food, I've realized, is designed to make it much more difficult for you to do all the things you're supposed to be able to do after surgery before they send you home: pass gas, pee, have the first celebratory bowel movement. But there's hardly any good fiber in the food, and more than that, it's loaded with all the refined sugars and flours and crap that keeps you blocked up. So not only do the meds have to fix problems caused by other meds, they also have to fix problems brought on by all that colon-jamming food. Oy.

Dr. Specht and Dr. Pitts both arrived at about the same time, just as I was coming to, and quickly checked me out. They again confirmed that there was no cancer in the lymph nodes—very good news—and that the surgery went very well. Dr. Pitts left with me with a brief sheet of instructions: no heavy lifting over 5 lbs., no stretching, no showering until 24 hours after the drain is removed, etc. She recommended deep breathing and walking to keep my lungs healthy and fully-expanded and exercised: use the breathing exercise machine twice every hour, keep an eye on the color of the fluid coming through the vein (it’s a beautiful magenta now, yellow mixing with the dark red blood of yesterday), and take it easy. I’ll be checking in with her in about two weeks, as well as the oncologists, who will by then have reviewed my final pathology, and agreed on a treatment plan.

The morning at NWH was zoo-y. I saw my new morning nurse only a few times; she was busy. There was paperwork to fill out, instructions on measuring and emptying the drain to be understood, a big bag of bandages, ace and otherwise, to be sent home with me for the visiting nurse, etc. I enjoyed a few more visitors: Jean and Kate arrived at about the same time, and I was happy to see them, to be able to sit on the bed upright, talk and laugh a bit with some old friends. My mother came over mid-morning, and Jim and the boys showed up after their Monopoly game was done. I was moving a little better, going to the bathroom by my self, and even walking some laps around the floor with all the other IV-toting gimpies and gumpies. At a certain point, the nurse came in with final discharge instructions, I got dressed (with more care, I realized, than I had ever had to use before), and packed up all my cool hospital stuff (the best: disposable cotton stretchy underpants!)

The trip home went fairly quickly, if not for the potholes that sent little spasms of pain through my chest, waking me up every now and then. The dog went bazooks when we arrived, jumping up on the car while we were still moving down the driveway, and yelling at me “Where have you been? Why are you walking so funny? What’s the matter with you? I must lick your face, must lick your face, bone? Did somebody say bone? Where? Give it to me, give it to me. Throw me the ball, the ball, a stick, a Frisbee, something.” If I could just bottle some of that energy…

Back to today. It's afternoon now, and the visiting nurse—a great woman named Sarah—has come and gone, changed my dressing, checked my vitals, and promised she’ll be back again tomorrow. It was very reassuring to have her here and to know that I'll be checked again tomorrow, and won't have to change my own dressing yet. I am so grateful that I did not have to remove the original bandages myself. It was hard enough seeing the wound out of the corner of my eye—sensing the hollowness, the concavity, the sunken nature of my chest on that side—much less getting an eyeful of the whole she-bang. Tomorrow, I’ll steel myself and look a little bit longer. Bit by bit is all I can handle. I know it’s going to be a bit of a visual shock to see the incision, the flatness, the total and complete absence of my left breast, the no-going-back—so I have to get used to the idea slowly. This is me now. Cancer is gone, gone! But I’ve lost a girl, and can’t grow a new one back. I have to put my faith in the expanders, the saline, the silicone implant, Dr. Pitts. The sureness that my body will know how to heal, that my liver will rebound after all these narcotics, that my digestive system will re-establish balance after round three of antibiotics, that my strength will return, my vision will sharpen up, my body will be reclaimed, up and out of the ashes, a phoenix rising. Spring is on the way, too, and I am grateful that I am able to go through my own re-awakening of sorts during the re-awakening of the earth; my own rebirth will echo that of the natural world around me, and soon, I’ll be rejoicing in the symphonies of spring peepers and wood frogs, crickets and coyotes, birds and budding trees. Life abounds, burgeons, blossoms, bringing forth new growth, blessings and native wisdom. For all I am grateful.

I hope that wherever you are, you are delighting in the beginnings of springtime, aflush and aglow with color and warmth, promise and wanderlust. Be well, stay well. And thank you.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Breast Party

I had to share this, from my cousin Susan, who always surprises, amuses, and amazes me with her great take on life. Thank you, dear cuz! And thank you, Benja! Your girls look lovely!!

It seems we are running out of time for a breast party where we all get to wear construction-paper creations on our fronts. But merely imagining such a party with everybody showing up to flash you their various-shaped turtlenecks each decorated with bright unmatching handmade construction-paper flowers pinned on to the two appropriate places could bring a laugh when you need one. Or even imagining Jim and your Mom walking you in for surgery so decorated might crack a smile. I had had visions of the Bryant family pulling up to your house with the nine-seater Buick filled with Paper Mache Venus de Milos, figureheads and Mermaids pilfered from boat yards and family dining restaurants up and down the coast, but then thought the construction paper flowers more appropriate for a breast party for those of us with the less statuesque busts.

The surgery should take care of everything. You are still you, whole, walking in and you will walk out whole. Just the bad stuff is being excised. So just focus on getting through it and some things you and your body will do afterward. And get lots of hugs in beforehand, and a scar-avoiding hug strategy for afterward.

Attached are our solidarity pictures for you. I left my scissors at the scene of my break-in to your Dad's and Mimi's, so we used a leatherman. We found that pipecleaners and twisty-ties go through sweaters easily for anyone else who wants to send their own. ;)

Best, Susan (and husband Benja, on the right)

Heading in, Counting blessings, Eating chocolate

(Thank you Shari and John!)

Yep, that's for sure.

This morning, the boys have discovered their Lake Champlain and Nirvana Easter chocolates, (mouths are smeared with dark brown caramel sweetness), their March Madness brackets have been updated with the latest scores (no one is faring particularly well this year, but at least they have predicted with more success than the truly-pathetic team at Sports Illustrated), and have retreated to the basement, where they are doing battle with the PS2 (yes, even homeschoolers play video games). I love my boys, have I told you that? My mother has just brought me toast and tea. Thank you, Mom! Outside, the birds are reveling in the new feed Jim has brought them, and it still looks COLD, though the sun looks as if it might, at full force later in the day, actually send some of this snow packing--unless, of course, the wind shows up again, whips about like a wild child, and maintains the brisk chill that has rendered our days decidedly un-spring like lately. At this point, a few days after the arrival of the vernal equinox, winter seems like an obnoxious house guest who has long overstayed its welcome. But it always does in this corner of New England, and blessings abound inside and out, and even for winter's last stand, I am grateful.

Later today, we'll brave the potholes and slow, Sunday traffic along Route 2 for the snowless suburban-scape of Newton, where we'll spend the night at the Marriott (thank you, Mike!) before checking in at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital first thing in the morning. I've spent the last few days trying to prepare--trying to stay grounded in the little rituals that make up my days, but feeling, every so often, my tight grip loosen on the emotions and pressures that have built up, only to be released again, in tears that swell my throat and spill unabashedly in an endless cycle of cleansing and metamorphic rebirth. Exhale. On a more practical level, I'm fairly well packed--soft, comfortable clothes, toothbrush, iPod, drawings from the boys, assorted charms, and my breathing exercise apparatus that will help my body expel the anesthesia drugs more quickly (and reminds me of my Iron Lungs days)--but I don't really know what to bring, aside from my warrior's steely gaze, nerve, and cut-throat bravery. After all, these are things I'll need the most, and since I won't be there for very long, and for the most part, will be zonked out on pain meds, the material in my overnight bag might not hold much allure. But who knows--maybe I'll surprise myself and muster the energy to suck some tube, launch a new company, file a complaint, write a bit, blurb, or morning page, or listen to some new tunes on the pod (thank you, Bbets). It's all possible.

There are many shining lights at the end of this tunnel, but one that is shining particularly bright is my 25th Exeter Reunion on the weekend of April 25. I have told all my docs that I must be there. That they must arrange things so that I can be there. That I will not miss it. I have a real passion, a great love and fondness for my Exeter friends & classmates, that I cannot imagine missing out on an opportunity to see them, to be with them; to talk, laugh, dance, hug; to thank them in person for being there for me throughout all of this; and to simply bathe and revel and bask in their glow (because these are some of the finest people on the planet, and they do, indeed, light up from the inside out). So, no matter where I am in the process of filling up my saline expanders, no matter how lopsided or sore I am, I'm going to be there. It's in the plan, man.

I have been humbled by the amount of Juju that has already reached me, and am grateful to you all for hanging in there with me--for checking in via email and telephone, for stopping by and dispensing much-needed hugs, for sending a wonderful assortment of gifts and charms and cards. Your words--and karuna--have touched me. Thank you. I've been wearing my milagros (thank you dearest Natalie for all my treasures), my ankh (Joy!), lighting my guardian angel candles, listening to the soothing meditation cds, reading the books, turning the charms and crystals over and over in my hands, feeling the weight of their colors and lightness of their magic. I've created a little altar of sorts by my bed, a grouping of cards and precious gifts that provide a beautiful focus for my eye, a portal to the friendships that I hold dear, and a reassuring connection to that world of mysterious workings--hope, grace, trust, faith--and the power and intuition that it brings. When so many of my good friends and family live so far away, this has been the best way I've known how to gather them all together around me in a comforting circle, soothing my anxiety, curing my sleeplessness, and replenishing my strength and determination. Thanks to all of you, I feel ready for what tomorrow brings. It feels like a good place to be.

Speaking of circling up...I must acknowledge the extraordinary group of women known fondly as the Used Bagges, the ex-ruggers from Williams, who have gifted me with the undeniable power of connection, the unbelievable joy of camaraderie, and the undying warmth of friendship. Thank you all, you lovely bagges! Along with my beach-walking in the sun, I'll have the finer days of spring banquet-ing in my head as I am wheeled in tomorrow morning. I'll feel the warmth from the fire, the rising morning sun, the circle of sleepy-eyed ruggers; I'll hear Earth, Wind and Fire on the jam box; and I'll smell the roasting pig, the stale kegs, the landfill's rousing charms. Good tonic, indeed!

I have always been amazed by the healing force of family, and by the strength of the bonds that hold high school and college friends together forever, regardless of years passed, lost contact, or divisions in the road. I have been truly awed, and bowled over and uplifted by the love I've received from my dear family and friends new and old, from people I haven't seen in twenty-five years, but who have remained in my heart, from close and distant cousins, who have kep me going strong with regular cyber-visits and even a lovely surprise visit yesterday (thank you Eddie and Claudia!), from old friends from my more youthful days, who have reminded me just how much laughter and fun really and truly matters. How is that my old friend Kristin knew that my favorite chocolate in the world was Green & Black's Maya Gold? I will add it to my daily stash of antioxidant supplements--thank you, Kristin! And thank you, ALL.

I wanted to shout out a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my friend Paige (Smith) Orloff, who is celebrating tomorrow, the 24th. I figure the fact that my surgery day falls on Paige's birthday is good karma, indeed. Thanks for sharing your day, Paige--and hope you celebrate in style. I'll be drinking my cocktail of general anesthesia gas, anti-nausea meds and painkillers and will toast you!!

Onward ho, to tomorrw. After a LOVELY NIGHT'S SLEEP, I check in at 7 am, head to nuclear medicine for my dye-contrast IV, and they will have NO TROUBLE FINDING A JUICY VEIN. I will then head to pre-op, where I will reacquaint myself with the AWESOME, SUPER SKILLED, EXPERIENCED team (Dr. Michelle Specht, breast surgeon, Dr. Ellie Pitts, plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist, and assorted interns and residents--this is a teaching hospital, after all--and thanks to friends and Drs. Rebecca Liu and Sridhar Ramaswamy for helping me assemble this team); where my left breast will be initialled by the breast surgeon; where I'll think on beach combing, spring-banqueting, and lounging on in the Swazey sun with dear friends; where I'll feel CALM and LOVED and CONFIDENT that every little thing's gonna be alright (thank you, Bob) due to all that good Juju coursing through my veins; and where I'll take my first sips into lala land. In the OR, they'll biopsy the sentinel node, which will BE CANCER-FREE, and with LOVING CARE AND PRECISION, remove my left breast, preserving the skin for breast reconstruction. Dr. Pitts will then carefully insert the expander under muscle and skin, CAREFULLY putting me back together (again, I think Sally in the wonderful Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas flick) so I resemble as much of myself as possible. The surgery will begin at 8:20, run about 3 hours, and require about 2-3 hours of recovery. NO COMPLICATIONS, NO SURPRISES. They will get all the cancer out. CLEAR MARGINS ALL AROUND. After this time, I will head to my room, which I am hoping to have all by myself. I won't need the heavy-duty pain meds, because I'll be FEELING PRETTY DARN TOOTIN' GOOD and the pain won't be so bad. A few folks will come to visit, and I'll actually recognize them, and SMILE and tell a joke or two about my girls. The docs will tell me EVERYTHING WENT PERFECTLY and after a GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP (hahaha) in the hospital, they'll check me out the next day, tell me I'm LOOKING GREAT, and send me home for some r & r. I'll post something on my blog as soon as I can--ALL IS GOOD I hope to write, ALL WENT WELL, FEELING FINE. And I'll HEAL UP WELL. I'll BEAT THIS. Things will get BETTER. And I'll be THERE FOR YOU, too. (Just a little visualization)

Herewith, in case you missed it, a copy of the email my friend Becca Martenson composed, a commission of sorts, of focused, collective Juju. Thanks again, kith and kin, for throwing me a line and not letting go. You guys are the BOMB. And I love you XOXO Liz

Dear friends,
As you all know, our dear friend Liz is beginning her journey of recovery from breast cancer. On Monday, March 24 at 8:20 am she will undergo mastectomy surgery with sentinel node biopsy to remove the cancerous cells and all tissue from her left breast. As well, she'll be beginning the first phase of breast reconstruction. Many of us will be supporting Liz and her family during this time by helping with childcare, preparing meals and being a listening friend when one is needed. But there is more we can do together as a community of people who love Liz Gardner.

One thing I have done for friends in the past, all women who were undergoing surgery for breast cancer, was to organize a specific time when a community of friends and family could send their love and prayers to the individual. Incredible research has been done on the power of intention and what is indicated is that the most effective time to support a person undergoing surgery is the 1/2 hour before the procedure begins. The women I have done this for all felt a wave of calmness settle over them during this most stressful and frightening pre-operative time. Together we can help bring this calm to Liz when she most needs it.

On March 24th at 7:50 am I invite you to join me in sending your prayers, blessings and loving energy to Liz in the 1/2 hour that precedes her surgery. I asked Liz to provide us with a comforting image that we can all meditate on when we spend this time thinking of her. Here is what she wrote:

I've thought about an image that has helped me fall asleep these past few nights: I'm walking on a beach, close to the where the waves roll in. It's a beautiful afternoon—warm, slightly breezy, gentle. The sun is a constant but not a bother. I'm walking barefoot and I can feel the sand beneath my toes, and it feels warm, not hot, and every now and then the waves come in and cover my feet. I am looking for shells—and I'm finding all my favorites: beautifully colored and patterned scallops, conches with the shiny insides, tulips, jingle shells, whelks. The picking is good.
This, of course, is from past experiences on Boca Grande, where my grandparents lived in Florida, where the beaches were pristine, free of people, quiet, lovely. There is a hushed quality about them that I remember. I had such great times there—and found the total immersion into the moment of just walking the beach to be enormously relaxing—unlike anything else I've tried

This is such a lovely, full-sensory image we can send to Liz as we also meditate on a successful surgery and quick recovery.

Thank you for joining me in sending this gift of love,
Becca Martenson

PS- It might be helpful to mark your calendars to remind yourself.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Celebration of Nah-nees

A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three. ~Grantly Dick-Read

I'm nearing the time when I will have to bid adieu to one of my girls, my left breast, a breast that has served me well over the years, never getting in the way, or bouncing up to smack me in the face during my early athletic years; working hard to provide an endless supply of warm, nutritious, perfect portable food and soft comfort to my two children, who never once complained that my breasts were two small, or too anything; remaining dutifully perky, albeit small, after the end of nursing rendered them nearly obsolete, drained, and worn out; and offering balance and equilibrium to my long tall body, that sure would have looked funny with bigger boobs, despite what that guy at my wedding said. I am grateful. And I will miss her.

"Nursing does not diminish the beauty of a woman's breasts; it enhances their charm by making them look lived in and happy." ~Robert A. Heinlein

Herewith some photos of the girls at work:
It is only in the act of nursing that a woman realizes her motherhood in visible and tangible fashion; it is a joy of every moment. ~Honore de Balzac

Here I am with baby Luke on the left, and baby Dominick, below, both just minutes old--first milk, delirium, joy--for both of us. After enduring a late, heart-wrenching miscarriage (at 13 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of bleeding) and before being able to enjoy a healthy pregnancy with Luke, I had to re-establish trust in my body, trust that it would work for me, carry this baby full-term, and not betray me again. The first time I nursed Luke, I reconnected with my strength and trust, and discovered something new there as well: a part of myself that seemed joyfully and inextricably linked to a pulsating collective of female energies that made the world go round. I loved nursing my boys. There was something magical and primal and supremely organic about it that restored my faith in myself and in the natural world. After years of feeling ambivalent about my breasts, I suddenly understood, deeply, their higher purpose. How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle? ~Katherine Mansfield

And after nursing for a total of six years, I still feel a kinship with other nursing mothers--of all species. When we were in the Galapagos Islands two summers ago, the sound of the sea lion pups suckling on their mama's teats on the beaches was simply awesome. And there's nothing like watching a crew of newborn puppies or kittens rooting about for a free nipple, and the absolute calm that overtakes them when they've latched on and received the first warm rivers of milk.

A baby nursing at a mother's an undeniable affirmation of our rootedness in nature. ~ David Suzuki.

It's amazing how perfectly we are made for nursing--don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. It was a real gift that I will treasure forever.

There are three reasons for breast-feeding: the milk is always at the right temperature; it comes in attractive containers; and the cat can't get it. ~Irena Chalmers

My cat taught me a lot about nursing, actually. Kitty, shown here with her little brood at 66 Hoxsey Street in Williamstown, was an undersized, beautiful, stray who found me during my first days of senior year. That spring, she got knocked up, and proceeded to make nests in my roommate's underwear drawer before deciding to have her kittens in a long, deep closet on the back glassed in porch where we had first met that previous fall. Despite her rough street-life beginnings, Kitty was a love, a real affectionate, gentle-hearted girl who gave herself totally to her kittens. Despite the distractions of the wildness that inhabited our backyard and every so often lured her outside to check back in with Chubby's pimp daddy, Kitty always turned around and came running home back to her kittens (this, after we would hold up the kittens for her to hear, their little squeaky meows calling her back). We ended up keeping two of the three (Smokey was adopted by a friend, became Lenin, and lived out a long life), but one of them, Speedy, so dubbed because she was the first out of the closet, was hit by a car in her first year (I don't need to spell out the irony), while her brother, Chubby (we never got around to changing their names--they fit them too perfectly--and Kitty remained Kitty because she was a perennial stray, everybody's cat) thrived--mostly on milk from his mother--and grew to a whopping 18 pounds. Kitty had always been small, only about 7 pounds, and an eye infection left over from her street fighting days weakened her. But she remained a devoted mother, licking Chubby clean while he pumped and suckled from his mother, who was smaller than he was by about ten pounds. At our urging, Kitty finally stopped nursing Chubby--but given the fact that he had no trouble literally bowling her over, she had to be aggressive with him, puffing herself up and hissing at him whenever he asked (a loud resoundant NO), and avoiding him as best she could. As soon as he got over it, she blossomed health-wise, and returned to be a loving mother with him, grooming him and fending off much larger neighborhood cats (he was a real mama's boy). They both lived to be about sixteen years old, and loved each other to the end. No doubt that all that nursing was good for both of them.

One of the best things about nursing is that you can take your breasts with you wherever you go--and so offer food and comfort your baby or toddler anywhere, anytime. Here's Luke nursing at the New England Aquarium--that's Betsy Randolph on the right--and notice the fish swimming by! (Dominick remarked, "Did you really wear those big glasses, Mommy?" Yep, I really did. And you should have seen the ones I wore in seventh grade.) I remember Luke had grown more and more frantic about needing to nurse, and I wondered where I might steal a quiet space in such a busy place--and ended up sitting in one of the window alcoves encircling the giant tank, watching the fish swim by. It was perfect. Betsy stood guard. When we were at the aquarium just a few weeks ago, I asked Luke if he remembered nursing by the tank. He didn't--but he did remember the game we used to play, putting our faces up close to the tank, closing our eyes, and then having someone tell us when to open them, always at the moment when a spectacularly beautiful or scary fish was swimming by, close to the wall.

"My opinion is that anybody offended by breastfeeding is staring too hard." ~David Allen

By the time Dominick was born, I was very comfortable nursing him anywhere, and by then had dispensed with the nursing tops in favor of the more comfortable and workable tank tops that I could easily lift up in a split second, without having to fuss with snaps or hooks. I really didn't care who saw my bare belly, or a flash of nipple. We used to joke that Dominick, who needed to be bounced, with much gusto, before bedtime (and still, to this day, bounces about always), thought for a short while that Jim was nursing him (in addition to bouncing him), because he'd grow so lulled by the bouncing, that he wasn't aware of the hand-off, to me, and so used to root about on Jim's hairy chest, looking for the nipple, but getting only a mouthful of blech instead, would cry and cry and need to be bounced some more. "Breast feeding should not be attempted by fathers with hairy chests, since they can make the baby sneeze and give it wind." ~ Mike Harding

Here we are in New Mexico when Dominick was about eight months old. I think at this time he was the size of most two year olds and nursed constantly. Both boys grew quickly, and nursed constantly. My girls were busy. And sometimes overworked, but happily so. After I came down with a bad bout of pneumonia in December of 2002, my doctor told me to stop nursing Dominick, who was two months shy of three. I knew he was right--but it was agony. Dominick was very gracious about it, telling me that it was "okay" and that he "understood." Of course, the moment he'd get into the tub with me, his eyes would catch sight of his nah-nees and he'd say, "Mommy! Nah-nees!!" And I'd have to hiss a little, but he showed great restraint. But we both grieved--and it was no wonder that a few months later I came down with my second bout that winter, brought on, at least partly, by the sadness I felt at having to end this phase of my life.

I had lots of dreams this past fall about nursing babies. Now I understand why. This is much more final. There will be no more babies, no more nursing. The mastectomy and Tamoxifen will make sure of that. But I did want to send my left breast off with a proper farewell, because throughout all my years of nursing, my girls never let me down. I was amazed at how well suited my girls were for the job, how much they enjoyed it, and how clearly bored they've been in retirement. Thank you, girls.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast...

~Joyce Kilmer, "Trees"

"A pair of substantial mammary glands have the advantage over the two hemispheres of the most learned professor's brain in the art of compounding a nutritive fluid for infants."
~ Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

"Breastfeeding is a gift that lasts a lifetime." ~Author Unknown
Here's Dominick at age three months with his great grandmother, Katie. This photograph was taken just weeks, if not days, before she died. She had held on to see Dominick before she died. We visited a lot in those first months and final weeks. Dominick would sit on her lap and happily gnaw on her fingers, and I think she thought it fairly wonderful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Persephone's passage

Say you were split, you were split in fragments
and none of the pieces would talk to you
wouldn't you want to be who you had been
well, baby I want that, too

--Aimee Mann (from Humpty Dumpty)

Sometimes things collide—cars, shopping carts, worlds, energies, planetary alignments, moon cycles, people, expectations, past lives, triggers—and the result can be fantastic, alarming, or catastrophic—or all three. Typically, collisions create chaos--a splintering, splitting, cracking, crushing, messy, clean up in aisle 7 type of thing. This morning, I experienced a collision of sorts—of anticipation, anxiety, tricky family dynamics, shifting hormones, and assorted unasked for stimuli--and felt the chaos bubble up and out in an unraveling that, I suppose, began at the start of this process. The surgery, just days away, is weighing heavily, and though glad for the extra week to conquer this virus and infection, regain some strength and lung capacity (old Iron Lungs is feeling it!), and prepare for the coming weeks, the waiting—and anticipation—has been torturous. Too much time to think, and those over-thunk thoughts become worries that fly and pester about at times of repose and reflection, and as much as I try to swat the buggers away, they persist, a pestilence that infects heart and mind, and tries to chase away my better sense. Luckily for me, the impending full moon, goddess that she is, offers opportunities for reconnection to our neglected interiors and native beginnings, and spring is on the horizon. As well, the Vernal Equinox heralds the cycles of suffering, death, and resurrections, and the growth, rebirth, renewal and awakenings of spring. And accompanied by my own place in the moon and female energy cycle, my better sense, unless closely tended, is seriously at risk. Have I lost you yet?

Suffice it to say that the vernal equinox is here, the full moon is coming, my period is coming, and the surgery is coming. And I’m feeling a bit emotional. Got it?

I’m learning a lot about myself these past weeks—that I can be temperamental, given to changing moods when the moon speaks to me, the rain falls, or the winds blow; that I am highly sensitive and intuitive, impressionable and mediumistic; that I am vulnerable to the psychic information I receive from my surroundings, often have trouble screening and filtering out these spiritual and environmental cues and voices (oh! now she’s hearing voices!!), and feel overwhelmed easily, particularly at certain times in my cycle (like, now); that during these times, all the past unresolved trauma from childhood (yes, after all that therapy, there seem to still be unresolved issues) and beyond come roaring back with a ferocity that unseats my soul; and finally, that I feel things deeply, need to vent freely, and can be emotionally expressive (what a lovely euphemism—expressive is when the Italian blood kicks in, my hands go all over the place, my voice rises, my hair probably stands on end, and the look on the kids’ faces is priceless). Collisions often lead to fragmentation, splitting apart, division. This cancer has brought many collisions to the surface, but I also believe that ultimately my safe passage through this cancer will empower me to reshape myself—both literally and figuratively, and inside and out—and the life I live, pulling the pieces back together in different ways, a rebirthing, a re-sculpting, a re-incarnation of sorts. That’s what life is, right? Something to be lived, first and foremost, and something to rework, over and over again.

The world, after all, is not all that we see in tangible reality. The world is full of mysteries, sub-surface alternative realities, parallel universes, uncertainties, and unexplainable phenomena. This mythic Underworld—full of dreams, the darker side of life, the unconscious, our demons, the spirit world, the collective consciousness of humanity—has risen to my surface, forcing me to draw inward, reflect on my place and progress in this world, face the depths of my fear, sadness, anger, mourning, and seek the light through the darkness. Drawing me up and out has been humor, music, my children, friends and family, and the lightness and rightness of the natural world. Just yesterday our dog Daisy caught sight of a small jet-black mink running over the white snow in the field next to our house; she sped off after it, and lost it near our stream. By the time we arrived, the mink had left nothing but delicate footprints in the snow, and a nasty musky odor that floated about the stream. The dog shoved her nose into the prints and one by one, followed them back to the meadow, retracing her steps. The mink, it seems, swam its way out of trouble. But how beautiful to see it—and even smell it—and be lured outside to check back in, however momentarily, to the world unfolding around us.

The full moon arrives tomorrow, and as always for me it is a reminder of a woman’s role as calendar-keeper, as progenitor of keeping track of the moon cycles, which long ago, before artificial light flooded our homes and upset our circadian and lunar rhythms, predicted her own. The moon is a powerful entity—and women, despite modern trends to disconnect entirely from these primal tethers, have always been at its loving mercy—the amount of moonlight we receive triggering our hormones and directly influencing the alignment of our menstrual cycles with that of the moon. This harmony with the moon and the resulting menstruation—bleeding without being wounded, in a particular rhythm, and containing the absolute magic of creation—can be powerful stuff—and has often been feared vilified, and misunderstood (resulting in the persecution—simply because their menstrual blood remained in their veins—of thousands of post-menopausal women in the 17th century for supposed witchcraft). Over the years, its disparagement—and the taboos that have been created to protect society and women from this power—have led to our detachment and disengagement with our very basic natural, feminine essence.

Several years ago, I thought of creating a special calendar for women to be used to better track not just their cycles, but their moods as well, checking in with their cyclical archetypal personas to better predict and plan for activities, and emotional and physical needs. (I’m still working on it) After all, thousands of years ago, it was women who created the first calendars, out of necessity. Since their own natural body rhythms corresponded to observations of the moon, it was their way of keeping track, making sense, and keeping order. There are many examples throughout ancient history: Chinese women established a lunar calendar 3000 years ago. The great Maya calendar was based on menstrual cycles. Romans called the calculation of time “menstruation,” of “knowledge of the menses.” In Gaelic, “menstruation” means calendar. The Pagans, bless their hearts, infused their thirteen month + 1 day calendar with ancient symbols of matriarchy: night, moon, the number 13. And there is some thought that early menstrual rites were perhaps one of the first expressions of human culture.

Here’s your astronomy lesson: when the full moon arises tomorrow, the sun and moon will be 180 degrees apart. And we all know that the full moon is the time of "highest emotion, energy and sensitivity." I mean, can't you feel it? This week’s Vernal Equinox signals the time when the Sun is moving northwards along the ecliptic, crossing the celestial equator, and day and night are of nearly equal length at all latitudes. On a more symbolic level, the spring equinox "celebrates conception, the sprouting seed, rejuvenation, and feeling the balance necessary to begin anew," signaling a new year, and ushering in change and growth at all levels. It’s no wonder, then, that its arrival, coinciding with so many other energies, have helped peel back the layers of emotions and old, worn-out protective charms to encourage new growth to push forth. As I’ve said before, there are always silver linings, opportunities for good things to come out of “bad,” and that there is, just as Albus Dumbledore says, light and dark in everything, and in each and every one of us. This breast cancer represents, in many ways, a collision of the energies of which I speak—and the opportunities that lie within each. Symbolically representing the feminine, the female, and motherhood in so many ways, this breast cancer is illuminating the dark patches of my life, bringing clarity, direction, and a sense of purpose to my footsteps, beseeching me to place boundaries around myself, to honor myself, and allow the space and time for change and growth—in fact, to seek it out, to pursue it. It is asking that I increase my awareness of and connection to my self, to my natural and spirit worlds, while loosening the hold of the material. All good things.

And so, after wailing in my closet for about three minutes to jettison out the black psychic smoke that had filled my lungs and taken away my voice, I returned to my day, eager to continue the psychic cleansing, with puttering (all women know how grounding doing some tidying up can be) and writing, baring soul, dark spots and all, in order to illuminate and better understand these rough patches, and let go, let go, let go—

My mother told me a funny story today. On the occasion of my their 50th wedding anniversary, my grandmother approached my grandfather, who by this time was fairly nearly crippled from an old ski accident, and was probably putting away his leg braces or special socks when she came to him, opened her robe and said “Can you believe this is the woman you married fifty years ago?” My grandmother had breast cancer twice, the first time in her early 50’s, when she had a mastectomy—without reconstruction—on her left breast. Big scar, no lizard tattoo. Add to that a myriad of other scars: appendix removed, gall bladder removed, and multiple abdominal surgeries because of her crohn’s disease. Her medical history was unbelievable—because by watching her, and seeing her undeniably gargantuan spirit in action, one would have been awed by what she had gone through. Both my grandparents went through more than their share of medical and family trauma—and doggedly not only lived their lives, but lived their lives well. Just when things were at their darkest, they shone their brightest. They had moxie! I am eternally grateful to them for seeding us with their strength and courage, passing on their spirit and generosity, and infusing all they did with humor and grace. My grandparents celebrated the full moon each month with a gathering of friends on their boat, or someone's boat, and they'd pack a picnic dinner, drink lots of wine, laugh with friends, and howl at the moon. I do think they were on to something.

I leave you tonight with a Lakota blessing: “Follow your Grandmother Moon. Her illuminating cycles will transform your spirit.”

If we all head outside to bathe in true blue full-moonlight tomorrow night, we'll all be looking at the same moon face, drinking in the same moonshine, and feeling the same Grandmother Moon transformative energy. See you there--and don't forget to howl. I'll be listening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Had a fever last night that came on suddenly (though for a few moments, I wondered if I was having a prolonged hot flash) and sent me into a spiral of self-doubt and fear. My stomach was upset, my chest tight, and I was so tired, that I felt intensely discouraged, wondering what had happened to the resurgence of energy I had felt just the day before. If nothing else, the fever was telling me to go to bed, and stay there, so I obeyed, and lay amid chills and sweats, stripped bare of my shield of courage and brave face. I cried like a baby, for a long time, and Dominick brought me an extra blanket, and Luke came in to check on me, and I finally fell asleep, feeling the snug embrace of my family around me.

In the morning, I woke with the sun, felt groggy, but okay--to be honest, I was happy to be alive, since the night before I had myself convinced that I lacked the strength to battle my demons. But somehow I did, and somehow we do--somehow we battle back, and however downtrodden, pick ourselves up off the ground, find our shield of courage and put on our brave faces once again. It's really the only thing we can do. I'm working on being more mentally tough--meditation is helping, but it's not easy. I'm digging deeper for my warrior woman; I hope to unleash her in time for a full assault on surgery day. Am thinking of a name for her. Zilrendrag, perhaps. And she rides a purple and green dragon-lizard into battle? Yeah, okay, so I've read far too many books like Eragon lately.
My mother drove me into NWH for pre-tests today. I was glad for a chance to see where I'll be on Monday for the surgery. Another easy, lovely drive (best part: seeing no snow on the ground just east of us). NWH seems like a well-run hospital--my time there was incredibly efficient. I checked in at the surgical center, was called in right away, met with a nurse who took my medical history, then was given a physical by a 12-year old (ok, maybe he was 18) intern named Mohammed. He was excited to be able to feel so many things in my belly--maybe I should loan my skinny self to a teaching hospital more often: "Here is your aorta! Wow! I can really feel it! But it is small, as it should be. No evidence of an aneurysm." (Oh, thank goodness; I was worried about that.) I then met with the anesthesiologist nurse, and then with a resident, who checked over Mohammed's work. I didn't have to wait more than a few minutes in between visits. Very impressive, I thought. All in all, my lungs were listened to by four different people today, and then x-rayed. Results tomorrow. Am hoping they are as clear as they sound. None of the docs seemed nervous (maybe because they are so very young? or maybe because I have become a hypochondriac who obsesses over every little junky feeling in my lung?), so I should not be as well, right? Right?
While I was getting my johnny gown on before the x-ray (as if the johnnies aren't cool enough, you get to wear the little locker key around your wrist; mine was purple), I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror--from the waist up--and saw my skinny, broad-flat-chested self, and laughed out loud at the ludicrously of reconstructing a breast that was so, so small. A breast that no bras fit anyway--those bra-fitting ladies always explain politely to me that they just don't make bras to fit my body, that the bra folk figure that it you're as small as an A cup, you're going to be just as small around the rib cage. Well, they didn't count on me, with my big-ass rib cage with its stick out, get stuck in the mammo clampdown ribs! Would it be worth it, really? Would I be better off not having the reconstruction? Fewer surgeries, less recovery time--but what would the trade-offs be? Would it really mess with my self-image? Questions, doubts, and imagination in over drive. My writing profs always accused me of over-writing (nah, not me!); I'm sure I'm an over-thinker, too. Just how many times can you turn something over in your mind before it wears itself down to dust and vanishes into nothing?
My cousin Teri made the beautiful card above. Thank you, Teri! It shines bright--as she does--and fills my heart with love and light, leaving very little room for fear--which is the way to do it, if fear has been knocking on your door lately. (and it has).
On this day after St. Patrick's Day, I leave you with this Gaelic toast ~ Slainte! ~ to Health!