Friday, June 27, 2008

Everyone has enough weeding to do in their own garden ~ Flemish proverb

Wednesday ~

A buck visited Dominick in the tent early this morning, when the dog stirred, waking Dominick in time to see the stately antlers silhouetted in the crepuscular light and the smudge of his wet nose on the outside flap of the tent.

Later in the morning, my mother and I drive Dominick to his At Home in the Woods camp, where he’ll make a medicine wheel, carve a throwing stick (just in case he wants to take out a few rabbits in the yard), and start to build a shelter with his clan, the Poison Ivies. Luke is already off to his basketball camp at NMH, where he’ll spend the morning enjoying the height he’s gained this summer and the full recovery he’s managed to orchestrate for his ruptured tendon, before heading to the golf course to prepare for tomorrow’s tournament.

My mother drives out to Wellesley with me for my summer fun: a midday appointment with Dr. Pitts. Despite the nearly four hours spent driving there and back, the appointment is brief. Standing in the paper johnnie, I try to relax my shoulders as she examines her work. One week out, and despite a few residual traces of the usual surgical trauma—some swelling on the left side, a bright red blood blister under my arm from being wrapped so tight, and three small cuts, the beginning of an incision, perhaps, around the nipple on the right side (did Dr. Pitts change her mind about the lift at the last minute?)—everything looks good. Dr. Pitts is pleased with the positioning. She smiles. I thank her for leaving my right girl as is. She’s done the right thing, and I am grateful. Clearly, she has listened well and gotten to know me. Not all docs do that.

I ask her about the strange feeling of concavity that I’ve noticed under the implant, which suddenly appears when I lie flat, and the implant moves a bit with gravity, as it's supposed to, revealing a ridge that my fingers find and follow, a sunken cavity, or hidden atoll. She explains how the implant is supposed to move as real breast tissue does, but that underneath, there will always be the outline of the pocket that the expander created, and that the implant is doing its best to fill, while still being able to move about. I realize that my new girl has big shoes to fill! And that I will always carry with me this feeling of having been scraped out, hollowed—the loss of the breast unbidden and memorialized by its absence, and by the presence of this new, earnest girl.

She leaves me with final instructions: continue to take it easy, protect the implant site, don’t stretch either arm overhead for another week, refrain from lifting with either side or partaking of summer fun for another three weeks, and soon, soon! the risk of bleeding or repositioning will be gone and I’ll be able to live life a little more fully again. As well versed as I am about my current restrictions, I’ve been curious about whether having an implant will restrict any future activities…jumping out of airplanes, playing rugby, breathing fire…but Dr. Pitts assuages my fears. After all, think of all the women out there with implants. Do anything you want to do.

Thursday ~

It’s been one of those mornings. I shudder to think of how much gas I’ve already blown, caravanning the boys and myself to camp, tournament, and PT appointment, respectively. Now, I’m home again, home again, jiggety jig, watching my mother take on the daunting task of weeding the gardens, bless her heart. A little common yellowthroat, its beak open in pathetic little panting breaths, its eyes starting to glaze over, has fallen into the straw mulch, wing injured, able only to hop for a bit and make intermittent, pitiful chirps. We decide there’s nothing for us to do, so for now, I tell Daisy, quite emphatically, that he’s a baby, that he’s got a boo-boo, and that she’s got to be gentle and leave it. She gets it. Her eyes widen in empathy as she backs away from the little bugger and retreats to the softer grass, where she awaits a rock, patch of crabgrass, or something, anything but the little baby bird with the boo-boo, that she can catch in her mouth and chew and use to whip up her usual frenzy of spit and froth.

I’ve noticed—despite the strawberries, or maybe because of—there seems to be a lull in the action, this final week of June. The riotous display of just a few weeks ago—wonderfully jarring in its relative intensity—when Life itself burst through the dull dead ache of winter and blanketed the earth with greens and the colors of spiraling hope and vigor, seems to have exhausted itself. After cycling through the inaugural blossoms of spring, from the earliest, shy, solitary dew drops and trout lilies, to the more recent explosive clusters of all-out revelry, new growth now seems suspended. The Korean lilacs have dropped their pinkish purple festoons, and stand now in need of a good pruning, while the creeping phlox appear bare and overgrown without their earlier display of sprightly pink flowers. The irises stand upright—for now—their seed heads bald and bare, stripped of their crowns of purple jewels. And the ephemerally bold beauty of the peonies has faded, their straggly heads, once held high in pink pompous splendor, now bow abashedly low to the ground, petals browned and torn. Like party girls at the end of a long night, make up smudged into dark under eye circles and hair disheveled, they’ve quite lost their grandeur, and are, quite simply, in need of a swift dead heading. I’m reminded of that Jayhawks song, Save it for a Rainy Day:

Pretty little hairdo
Don't do what it used to
Can't disguise the living
All the miles that you've been through…

Soon the gardens will again be boisterous with color, the phlox and bee balm and lilies will burst forth in pinks and purples and oranges, a floral fireworks display just in time for the 4th. But for now, as the quiet, lovely flowers of the astilbe start to take their place in shade and sun, and the lilies strain with their flash-in-the-pan promise, the bees, butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds must be content to visit the blossoms cascading over the whiskey barrel planter, the hanging basket, and other potted annuals for their nectar—and the stand of milkweed that has suddenly flowered in spheres of delicate, light pink petals in the center of the otherwise quiet perennial garden.

Milkweed is not something most people have in their perennial gardens, I know, but there it began to grow, and I left it, knowing that while it might not be what most people want growing in their gardens, it may be just what we need. After all, this oft-overlooked weed provides the elegant monarch butterfly with everything it needs to survive and complete their remarkable migration to Mexico, from serving as a host site for its eggs and food for its developing larvae, to being responsible for the awesome system of self-defense (obtained from the toxins in the milkweed leaves) that renders the caterpillars, and therefore the butterflies, poisonous to eat, and thus safe from predators. In the fall, after the flowers have developed into seed pods, the milkweed begins to dry, opening up its clutch purse to release the perfectly layered parachutes of downy fluff into the wind currents of seed dispersal. I’ve always loved to collect the pods and watch the tiny brown seeds jump into the wind like paratroopers, white silky chutes trailing behind them. The seeds have been collected by Native Americans, who insulated their moccasins with the soft fuzz, as well as school children during WWII for use in military life jackets. More recently, milkweed has been used as an indicator of ground-level ozone air pollution (sounds like a homeschool project to me).

Like the milkweed, with its hidden talents and unexpected, unconventional beauty this time of year, my new girl—scarred, nipple-less, swollen—might not compare to the bodacious ta-tas out there, but she might be just what I need. And like the gardens that spiral through cycles of life, death, renewal, and rebirth, she too awaits her next bloom. A new nipple in another two months. And two months after that, a tattoo of color to restore the pink to nipple and areola. Soon, I’ll be able to wear a bra again, but for now, it’s just me and my girls, bared in all our flat-chested glory, and ironically, more symmetrical now than we were before my mastectomy, when my left breast, long ago declared the favorite side by both my boys, carried a little more heft and bounce than the right.

One is tempted to say that the most human plants, after all, are the weeds. ~John Burroughs, Pepacton, 1881

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

A weed is but an unloved flower. ~ Ella Wilcox, 1855 - 1919

Friday ~

River fog envelopes our little pocket of land this morning, making it hard for the sun to burn through. I head down to the vegetable garden, and find what I am looking for: the little yellowthroat, stiff on its side, eyes pecked out, tiny legs sticking out of the straw mulch. Alas. I scoop him up and toss him into the edge of the woods, where someone will make a meal out of him.

I notice that there’s a trail of disruption (not quite destruction) running along one side of the garden, where the straw has been displaced, and sent to lay scattered atop the edge of the lawn. It looks as if something large has sped through, its hooves or paws or feet skidding through the straw before dashing into the more forgiving grass. Daisy chasing a ball? Dominick’s buck?

The first tomatoes are coming in, along with broccoli, summer squash and zucchini. We’ve been enjoying salad greens and herbs, and soon there will be beans, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, watermelon, and later, pumpkins, winter squash, sunflowers, and a bounty of pesto to make. The swiss chard, which only a week ago was looking chewed up and hideous next to the stately, reliable kale, appears to be making a comeback, its jewel-toned stems nearly luminescent in the pale streams of sunshine that have just started to spill into our leafy vale.

And the weeds? Well, the weeds are doing quite well, thank you. Don’t they always? Because just when the garden starts to really produce, with all that good growing energy infusing everything within the confines of the garden, the crabgrass, clover and jewel weed, as well as the plants that are there through intention, with light and warmth and nutrients, that’s the time when the weeds come out with a vengeance. It’s a ridiculous and futile task to try to beat them down and assert any kind of control over them, but we take it on nonetheless, because it’s what we do, and we lose the battle, each and every time, but somehow, we feel better for the effort.

Much like the piles of clutter inside my house and head that I still need to get to after this half-year of crawling (and weeding, and everything else) at half-speed, the weeds taunt me ceaselessly, and I slip back into my sense of overwhelm, and wonder when I’ll ever get things straightened out.

We can in fact only define a weed, mutatis mutandis, in terms of the well-known definition of dirt - as matter out of place. What we call a weed is in fact merely a plant growing where we do not want it. ~E.J. Salisbury, The Living Garden, 1935

But the first lily came out today, unfolding its speckled orange flower to the gradual appearance of the morning sun. And I know that everything takes time, and sometimes things move too fast, and sometimes they move too slowly, and all we’re left with is this moment, this here and now, to appreciate and enjoy and live in. The lily will be dead by morning, another in its place. Those day lilies may not have staying power, but they sure do know how to pack a lot of punch into their short little lives.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to my dear old Dad today, who is off sailing the coast of Maine with some old college buddies. Wherever you are, Dad, I hope the fog has lifted, the wind is filling your sails with excitement and speed, and the sun has come out to set the water asparkle and the sky ablaze with color. I love you!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scoping you out!

Ever had a colonoscopy? You might think it a subject better suited for the Flip Side of Fifty, but here’s a story I’d like to share about an old rugby friend who, at the age of 44, started to have a few minor digestive disruptions and decided, wisely, to have them checked out. A colonoscopy discovered colon cancer in its earliest stages, and Emmy was able to get immediate treatment and come out on the other side with flying colors.

I know all too well the relative discomfort—and diagnostic benefits—of the Colonoscopy. A year or so before becoming pregnant with Dominick, my belly was beginning to rumble, again, in spastic fits of disequilibrium, and given the history of Crohn’s and colitis in my family, I wasn’t going to take any chances, so I had my first colonoscopy. I was fine (and maybe just needed to get pregnant again, and let the expansion of my uterus slow things down for awhile), but will never forget watching the photos of my pink colon float on by as I lay on the table and tried to feel dignified. The worst part of being scoped? The preparation itself: fasting for many hours while force-feeding yourself glass after glass of that disgusting Fleet phospho-soda stuff that cleans out your system in riptide fashion, and leaves you picture-ready. My friend and fellow Used Bagge Sunny (aka Tyler) wrote a wonderful tribute to the Colonoscopy in honor of Emmy’s good fortune, and I asked her if I could share it on the blog. It’s hilarious, and important, and a fine complement to The Clampdown. And it’s just another reason to always, always, hold a Used Bagge by the bottom! Here’s Sunny:

Dear Loved Ones:

Just a friendly reminder that you are due for this service when you turn 50. But why wait? -- schedule today! Be like me - even though you're not due for routine screening for another five years, step right up and let them do it early because you exhibit a few symptoms. After all, if your dear friend Emmy, also 44, was able to catch colon cancer after a single symptom because she got right on it and she's now happy and healthy, you should be similarly diligent. It's not such a bad way to spend a few hours, and I'd like you to enjoy yours even more than I did, which is why I offer some advice below.

Try to avoid the part where they put a camera up your behind. To paraphrase a friend's experience, the bad news is they put quite a lot of equipment up my pooper; the good news is I did not enjoy it.

Also try to avoid the part where you have to clean out your insides so the photos look pretty. This involves not eating for 36 hours and other routines best enjoyed by the anorexic and bulemic populations. Or people who live in Santa Monica. If you like food as much as I do, it is a day of fine dining that you will never get back and therefore a cause for much mourning in itself.

It is inevitable during the procedure that they will introduce massive amounts of gas INTO your bowel, on purpose. What we won't endure for a well-lit snapshot! While most of the population usually works diligently and discreetly to make sure things flow in the opposite direction, try to make the best of it by imagining you are a teenage boy and all the fun you will have later with your friends.

If you have the option of not being petite or having a curvaceous colon, I would definitely stick with having a larger, straighter body. This will enable you to avoid hearing the doctor say to the nurse "pull back and try again, pull back and try again" and "no, no, don't do that" several times as you feel the scope poking through your abdominal wall in its best Alien imitation. Hey kids, let's take pretty photos, don't try to perforate the bowel. It ain't comfortable and I might need to use it again for something.

Because you will already have had more fun than a barrel of monkeys, I recommend you not follow instructions to pop right up off the operating table and scurry for the bathroom when it's all over. This will likely result in immediate fainting, falling backward and banging your head on wooden doors or other inconvenient structures. Why not wait to sleep in your own comfy bed, which I have found superior to the harshly lit and rather cold bathroom floor?

If you follow my advice, I'm sure you will find that this invaluable diagnostic procedure is well worth the time and effort. When you hear the good news that you have neither malignancy nor polyps nor other discernable faults in your nether region, I'm sure you will, like me, rejoice that you can look forward to another one of these in five years or so. In the meantime, take pride that the medical staff, aka your body's guests for the day, were extremely pleased with the quality of the photos and seemed to have a really good time.

Yours in good health,

Tyler

So ladies: get your mammos done, keep up with your paps and dental visits, don't forget to have those moles checked, and by all means, don't fear the colonoscopy! But above all else, be well. Thanks, Sunny and Emmy for sharing your stories! I send LOVE to all, and especially to all the Used Baggage out there!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled. –Thoreau

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~ Linda Hogan

We spend Sunday morning surrounded by the snap, snap, snap of strawberries being plucked by stem from vine, over and over, the sound crisp and clear in the air that hangs thick with river fog and the sweet scent of strawberries. The picking has been phenomenal this season, but today, the particular kind of strawberry we gather seems entirely worthy of the lavish attention its getting from the scattering of families, who easily fill four, five flats with the ripe fruit before heading home. At the center of everyone’s focus is a strawberry that seems quite quintessential in character--tidy and plucky off the stem, shapely, and brightly crimson in color, with a muted texture and sweet taste that tickles the tongue—a veritable starlet on this summer outing. We are lucky.

Thunderstorms have sent us inside, where we read on the red couch, watch the rain pour down the windows, and try to settle the dog, who has decided that Armageddon has come to play out its final battle on our lawn. I’m trying to take it easy, in between hulling strawberries and writing up our end of year progress report for the school district, but the booms and claps of thunder sound like calls to attention, and I’m trying desperately to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m impatient, drowsy, and melancholy. I haven’t quite kicked off the residual effects of the anesthesia, or perhaps, it’s more than that, and the recriminations and tides of change have crept up and found me here, wondering when my light will shine again, this heavy blanket of slumber shadowy and still, obscuring the edges of my sunshine. Soon, soon, I tell myself, in pockets and patches and sunbursts it’ll come, at first a fleeting, shimmering display, then quieter, still, a soft glow radiating inward, and I’ll catch it with nimble fingers and set it to sing from my heart.

And so, I wait. I am used to waiting, but it is wearing on me. I skirt the edges of activity, try to maintain compliance, and follow doctor’s orders, but I have been forgetful. I reach for a pot hanging on the ceiling rack, and I reprimand myself. Let someone else get it for you. I lift a watermelon onto a cutting board, and feel the all too familiar pinch and roll of the fish flapping in my chest. Ouch, that didn't feel right. At night, I wake myself up just as I’m about to roll over to sleep on my left side. Nope, can’t do that. I feel like Hagrid spilling secrets to Ron, Harry and Hermione: Oops, shouldn’t have said that.

After my mastectomy, there was a lot of swelling, stiffness and intense soreness to stop me from putting my arms over my head, from lifting much of anything. I simply wasn’t able to do it, even if I wanted to. And I had no desire to toe the line. Self restraint came easy at first, and for the bulk of the first two weeks, as I walked about slowly and protectively, I rendered my left arm off-limits, keeping it quiet at my side, hand in pocket, and avoiding all temptation.

Later on, after my pec muscle had started to stop its twitching, it became harder to not want to resume my usual activity and get full mobility back—but I knew it would take an achingly long time. There was still ample discomfort to provide swift warning not to lift my fat cat, a pile of books, or a shopping bag loaded with groceries, or get on my bike and fly over the hills without a care. The repercussions were swift and furious.

Less than a week out of my last surgery, my new girl a mere five days old, I am already wondering how I’m going to make it through the next four weeks without totally screwing up. Dr. Pitts gave me plenty of warning—do anything rigorous, lift anything over five pounds with either side, stretch your arms overhead in the first two weeks, wear a bra, for god’s sake, and risk messing with the implant, which could move, change position, and assume the very lopsidedness that I was so desperately trying to avoid.

I’ve already put in a lot of jail time, and I have no desire to blow it. How would I ever forgive myself?

I’ve realized I need help in leaving this frustration behind, and staying the course.

For several days leading up to my last surgery, I saw turtles, it seems, everywhere. One morning, as I was pulling out of our driveway one morning, a huge turtle appeared on the road before me, about to make her way down the grassy slope towards the stream that runs on the edge of our property. We get a lot of visiting turtles in the springtime—usually snappers, but sometimes the more elusive wood turtle, now designated as a species-of-interest with a limited habitat (including, it seems, our specially-mapped wetlands) in the state. This one was attracting a lot of attention, and we made sure she made her way to safety.

One afternoon, the boys and I went on a long walk one day to the outer reaches of River Road and Pisgah, where the road turns rough and the trees start to fill in along the river. The tiniest of baby painted turtles—the size of a quarter—lay on the road, where it seemed to have been caught under a tire. Dominick scooped it up and cooed to it, hoping to revive it. Its little tail moving ever so slightly, we placed it gingerly in the tufted grass on the side of the road and wished it well, knowing that if we attempted to bring him home and valiantly nurse him back to health, he’d surely die by the time we got to the end of the road.

A few days later, we discovered a large painted turtle hanging out in our side garden, about to make her way under our deck. She was beautiful—the distinct orange and black markings stunningly artistic, her belly an unexpected orange. We ran inside to get our turtle book, but when we had returned, she was gone. We experienced much disappointment at not being able to spend more time with her: a missed opportunity.

The next evening, I was driving to Dominick’s baseball game in Northfield, and suddenly realized that the small gray thing plugging along the side of the road was a turtle, moving with much determination and focus, each stride deliberate, and, fortunately, just within the narrow shoulder. I slowed down to see it more closely—boxy, strong, motoring, it could be a snapper, looking to lay her eggs. I instantly feared for her life. A car could have easily squashed it. And who knows where she was headed—to the local market for a turkey sandwich? She’d have to cross the road. To the library to return some overdue books? (At least the library was on the same side of the road.)

So many turtles, so little time.

But if I listen, I can learn from these turtles that move ever so slowly through life, as if they know they’ve got all the time in the world--and they do. Don’t we all?

Turtles have long been associated with many things in many cultures—as a native symbol for Mother Earth, turtles can represent longevity, the female, an awakening to heightened sensitivities. The thirteen markings on its shell provided inspiration for the lunar calendar. Turtles have been thought to be the keepers of the doorways to the Faerie Realm, where the mysteries of the stirring of the senses take full flight. That's where we find our peace, after all.

Turtles, it seems, don’t have to work very hard to move with purpose and deliberation, each intentional step forward echoing their strong sense of groundedness within life, their feet solidly connected to earth. Perhaps I need to trust the catch and flow of the ground beneath me, immersing myself into this thing called life.

The wise old turtle carries its shell on its back, and when need be, when there’s trouble afoot, or when life becomes too much, he can retreat, pulling his head into the safety of his shell, and ponder things until all is clear. Perhaps there will be times when I need to go inside my shell, coming out only when my ideas are ready to be expressed.

Life gets busy, and the hectic pace quickly reaches a crescendo of disequilibrium if left unchecked. Things get topsy-turvy. We fly by the seat of our pants. We turn a blind eye to the opportunities around us. We miss out on the chances to tap into ourselves, restore our awareness, and reach for the abundance that is waiting. We lose sight of who we are—that primal, animal center of energy and connection to the natural world that lies, pulsating and awaiting release and renewal, within all of us, often neglected, forgotten, dismissed, diminished, belittled.

Perhaps the turtle can teach me some things about getting through the next four weeks—and the next forty years. Perhaps the turtle can teach all of us.

When life becomes too hectic, slow down. When you can no longer see the forest for the trees, sit back and open your eyes again to your surroundings. Take time to notice the little things—they matter. When your world upends itself, use your head and knowledge to right yourself. All that you need to know is within you. Let the natural flow work for you. Take your time. Revisit your own perceptions about time. Is your relationship to time a healthy one—or does it control you, spinning things out of control and away from the harmony that soothes our souls? Don’t expect to take giant steps; too much, too soon will only upset the balance. Pay attention, or you’ll miss our on opportunities. And when you need to, ask yourself: are you not hearing or seeing what you should? Are you or those around you not using discrimination? Are your senses awake, tingling, searching, keeping you grounded in this present moment?

The turtle reminds us that Mother Earth generously offers all that we need—but we need to be able to open ourselves up to it and in order to do that, we need to slow our pace, awaken our senses, and realize that we have all the time in the world. We can wait to pick up the cat, reach for the pot hanging from the ceiling, or stretch those arms overhead. We don’t have to figure out the big stuff all at once. Not just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for all that later.

I am grateful for the animal totems that frequently enter my world—and bring me back to a place inside that feels safe, true, and pure. There is peace in this place, an all-out sensory experience that instantly transports me back to being a child, visiting my great grandparent’s farm, and losing myself in the smell of hay, the rush of wind against the waves of grass, the stark quiet of place; searching for salamanders with friends during recess, when we’d focus all our attention on where they might be—with ears, eyes, hands, noses all tuned in, becoming a part of their world as we left ours, that wretched blacktop playground, behind; and holing up in a rocky crevice at my father’s beach for the afternoon, tasting the salt in the air, watching the sea birds spiraling and dodging currents and tides, and hunting for treasures amongst the tide pools: sea glass, crabs, star fish, sponges, periwinkles, and the perfectly smooth banded stones, wave worn and full of magic.

It’s the magic I’m after. But finding those doors to the Faerie Realm requires some serious work—quiet, reverent listening, noticing the little things, and maybe a little luck. I’ve got time. We all do.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~ Rachel Carson

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It’s a Girl! The Great Reveal and Other Detox Delights.


The path of life is the present.


I wake up with a mission: to jump-start the long, critical process of detoxing my body, regain my sense of balance, stop hallucinating, empty my bladder fully, restore functionality to my digestive system, get rid of the chemical taste in my mouth so I can actually enjoy food again, and get acquainted with my new girl.

First task: Get rid of the patch! After breakfast, I take off the transdermal scopolamine patch that’s been sitting behind my right ear since pre-op, when the anesthesia doc, in between hooking me up to the IV and running through my anesthesia history, carefully stuck it on, promising that it would minimize any residual feelings of nausea I might have post-op from the anesthesia. As much as I know it was a necessary piece of the surgery and my initial recovery, especially given how pitifully sensitive my stomach is to any kind of motion sickness (especially the drug-induced, midway ride, or whale watch kinds), it feels good to peel the patch off and throw it away. Those patches pack a lot of power in a very small space. Shaped like a small, circular band aid that you might use to cover a shaving nick on your leg, the patch feels like a bug crawling up my neck, or a deer tick burrowing in for some dinner, and time and time again, I’d scratch it away, only to realize too late, of course, that it was just the damn patch, and I’d have to rush off to wash my hands.

Apparently, whatever makes it so effective can also rub off on your fingers, and if your fingers come into contact with your eyes, it can do strange things, dilating your pupils and blurring your vision. In addition, there’s a host of other most excellent side effects, including drowsiness, disorientation, dry mouth, blurred vision, dilated pupils, confusion, hallucinations, difficulty urinating, and rash, that are associated with use of the scopolamine patch. Funny, but I’ve had all those symptoms since surgery on Tuesday, and as glad as I am to have a reason for them, it’s also a little frightening to think of how strong the medication must be in order to wreak such havoc on your system. Add in all the other meds—the touradol, the anti-nausea drugs, the anesthesia gas, the vicodin, the antibiotic, etc—and you’ve got yourself a pretty potent little brew. Hence, my mission.

When I finally do rid myself of the patch, it takes me a short while to regain my land legs, and initially, I find myself pitching about as if I were on a boat rollicking on the high seas. Jim wore a patch during the week we were traveling around the Gal├ípagos Islands two summers ago; I think it worked brilliantly for him. If he was hallucinating, I wasn’t aware of it (actually, he thought he saw blue-footed boobies, but they were actually just pigeons, haha). The rest of us were downing Dramamine at dinner time, when the table would pitch back and forth in synch with the rough seas outside, and we’d have to steady the dishes from sliding across to the other side. By the time Mauricio, our guide, worked his way through his presentation as to what our schedule would be the next day, we’d be lost in a drowsy Dramamine haze, eyes drooping, head dropping and then snapping into alternating bursts of slumber and wakefulness. Whaddya say? More blue-footed boobies tomorrow?

Task two: Unwrap the bandages for the Great Reveal. I had taken a few sneaky peeks yesterday, trying to see what was making me itch so badly (maybe the patch, maybe the adhesive tape), but couldn’t see much, just the edge of the incision on the left side. I am eager to meet my new girl, to see what she looks like after all this time, and to see if I indeed have a matching pair. There was some relief in knowing that Dr. Pitts deemed the lift to my right breast unnecessary; my right girl would be intact, my left finally in tune with the right, party- porn girl Pamela Anderson evicted, and a new tenant—quiet, responsible, low-key—moved in. But hovering around me is a bit of anxiety, an annoying fly that I can’t quite swat away. What will she look like? Will she be bruised? Discolored? Will there be any other surprises—places where the adhesive tape has ripped off my skin, Dr. Pitts’ sharpie marks, any discharge leaking from the incision? Ewww...

I stand before the wide mirror in the upstairs bathroom. The wrapping is thick and tight. I start with the outermost layer, slowly unraveling it to its end. I stop to roll it up, taking my time, knowing that once it’s done, I’ll have to unwrap the rest. Thick surgical pads sit under the next layer of gauze. They are free of blood, and I think: this is a good sign. I don’t want to have to revisit the bruising and bleeding of my post-mastectomy girl, who truly needed all those pads for comfort and protection, and for crying her drain out.


I unwrap the rest and there she is: my new left girl, stunningly awesome, a perfect match for my right girl, in size and shape and droop and wiggle. Bravo, Dr. Pitts! Gone is the stiff rigidity of the expander, and in its place, lies a softer, more natural looking and feeling breast. Of course, they’ve been wrapped up so tightly for so long that they look slightly squashed, and as I check them out, I am at once struck with the hilarity of how small they really are, and I laugh out loud. It’s good to have my girls back. However small they are, they’re mine—and, they’re cancer-free. Bonus.

Task three: Take my first shower, hurrah! There is no bruising, no discoloration, just some dried blood along the incision. There is no pain, just some soreness that comes and goes to remind me to take it easy for a while. I don’t rush but I don’t linger, either. I wash my hair, easily reaching the top regions of scalp and pate, and I am happy for the lack of tenderness in my chest that made it so difficult to do much of anything after my last surgery. As I soap up around my chest, I give my new girl a little push, and she jiggles. I give my old girl a little push, and she, too, jiggles. Perfect.

Out of the shower, I’m wondering how long it will take for my girls to spring back to life after being strapped down for so long. I’m not allowed to wear a bra for another four weeks, so, I’ll have to make do with layering with tank tops, and somehow disguising the fact that I still only have one nipple. There are paste-on nipples you can buy for just such an occasion—when you’ve only got one, and you don’t want people staring at your chest, trying to make sense of what they’re seeing. But I don’t think I’ll bother with those; I figure, most women have subtle differences in their breasts and nipples that go unnoticed each and every day. And at a certain age, when you really start to feel like a Used Bagge, you just don’t give a hoot what people might think. For years, I never wore a bra, and even back then, I didn’t really care if my nipples were showing through or not. But when people know that you’ve had breast cancer and reconstruction surgery, their eyes will invariably travel to your right side and then your left, wondering, just what does a reconstructed breast look like?

My left girl is still a girl in progress, after all. In another two months, I’ll be able to get my nipple, and I won’t have to worry about whether anyone is wondering why my left girl looks so smooth and nipple-less, while my right girl is clearly saying hello!. And two months after that, I’ll get tattooed—color for the nipple and an instant areola, and maybe, if I can convince the tattoo artist, a lovely little lizard, too. Unlike the past two surgeries, the nipple construction will take place in Dr. Pitt’s office, not at NWH, under local anesthesia, not general. Here’s a horrible image: long ago, many male plastic surgeons used to take tissue from a woman’s labia (yes, labia, and if you don’t know where or what that is, you should refer to your old anatomy book and make a date to acquaint yourself with your vagina, or, as my family likes to call it, your pookie) to construct her nipple. Can you imagine? Doesn’t that make you want to grab your crotch and never let go? Ouch!! In recent years, docs have used skin grafting techniques, taking skin from the inner thigh to create a new nipple. Dr. Pitts has said that skin from the inner thigh just doesn’t feel or look enough like the real thing, and that she prefers using skin from the breast itself to form the nipple. Makes good sense to me. Just as long as it’s not my labia!

Task four: Pick more strawberries. Get out in the sunshine. Breathe in some fresh air. Expel gunk from lungs. My mother, Luke, Dominick and I take our time filling our boxes with berries. The picking is exceptionally good this year, and it’s easy to overflow a quart container without having to move an inch down the row. It’s the perfect activity: calming, meditative, delicious, leisurely, and fun. We run into friends and get caught up while the kids start to stain their lips and finger tips and shirts with berry juice. A reporter from the local paper shows up to ask us questions: how long have we been picking at Upinngil? (ever since we can remember) What is our favorite variety? (the non-rotten kind) What do we do with the ones we pick? (throw them at annoying reporters) Yadda, yadda. A photographer shows up to snap away while we’re gleaning the rows. I almost tell him to take a picture of my new girl. First photo-op! Or not. I forget myself. No one cares about your girl, I tell myself, and frankly, we’re all getting sick and tired of hearing about it all the time, so shuddup already! It’s about the strawberries, after all. We’ve picked twenty one pounds. We grab some shortcake biscuits from the Honey House on the way out, and plan on a veritable strawberry feast at dinner time.

My cousin Susan arrives for an unexpected visit in the early afternoon. It’s so great to see her. As we sit and talk and laugh, I am acutely aware of the how much healing power resides in simply being with people you love and who make you laugh, pulling you outside yourself for just a few moments, to air out your worries, and help you remember that you will feel better tomorrow, and even better the day after.

Task five: Move that blocked chi along! My mother drops me off at my acupuncturist’s office in the afternoon. Dan’s a quiet, unassuming, kind man who makes me feel like a chatterbox, prattling on and on about my new girl, about my bloated belly, the hallucinations, my sluggish system. I take to the quiet of the table and welcome the rush of the needles as they find and release stagnant pools of energy. I count ten needles in all. Ah, I have some work to do. I close my eyes and the faces appear around me. They are unrecognizable, looming over me, morphing into other faces. Are they left over from the masked faces that surrounded me in the OR? My spirit guides come to tell me something? I breathe deeply, and focus on the street sounds spilling into the room from outside. Within minutes, I am falling into a deeper level of consciousness. One by one, the sounds peel away, baring the quiet and stillness of my soul. The faces are gone. It’s just me now, feeling the tug and flow of energy up and down the currents that crackle and rage with life force. Time slips away…

Dan comes back into the room to remove the needles, recheck my pulses; I am ushered back into body and room, where the sounds reappear, and I am once again here. My mother waits for me in the lobby. I can feel things starting to move again. We head home to round up dinner, and get the strawberries ready for the shortcake. It’s really the only thing to do on this day. The promise of Friday's Summer Solstice suffuses the night sky with an excess of light, the orange sun taking its time to drop over the horizon. The sky is so beautiful with clouds and colors and light that I hope someone, somewhere, is painting it.

Task six: Sleep. Heal. Dream. Ask the faces what they want. Then ask them to please leave me alone. Sleep through the dog's barking, the boys coming into the house after spending another night in the tent, the roar of trucks pulling up over the hill, the birdsongs filling the skies. Wake up and feel better, knowing that everything is going to be okay. Believe it. Trust it. Surrender to it. Embrace it. Leave the fear behind.


You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Always laugh when you can, it's cheaper than medicine.


It’s Monday afternoon. My mother and I arrive at the Newton Marriott, same hotel as before, but a decidedly different room. I instantly feel the associative energy from being there the night before my mastectomy. Dread. Anticipation. Loneliness. Courage.

There is no view of the river this time, just the empty end of the parking lot, where a lone cop, his car parked under the trees, sleeps off his recent donut binge. There will be no lovely white swan coming over to greet us this time, just a small clumsy bird careening into the broad window outside of our room before flying off, apparently unharmed. What am I supposed to take from that?

We picnic in our room and watch some silly TV before retiring to bed with our books. I think I’m ready to sleep, but as soon as the light goes off, my head starts to whirl. Maybe I’m missing my blue light, or the comfort of my own bed, or perhaps all my anxieties leading up to this next surgery have finally found me, nestled in a quiet moment of repose, and have sprung their malevolent gossip on me.

It’s early Tuesday morning. I’ve woken with the sun that shines through the curtains to bathe the room and spring me from my eerie dreams. I doze off until about 5:45 to take my Tamoxifen and drink a good spat of water. I have slept only in snatches, here and there, struggling at first to quiet my quickening pulse and deepen my breathing, and later, to find some semblance of comfort in the overly warm bundle of bedding that bunches around me in a sort of suffocation. I slide back under the uppermost layers of sleep, and dream I am nursing Dominick, and then Luke, both toddlers again. And they’ve been cranky and sad and afraid, and when I put each of them to my breast, left side of course, the troubled look in their eyes vanish, and I suddenly realize why they’ve been so out of sorts. But of course!, I tell myself, I’ve been forgetting to nurse them.

That’s the trick of parenting, isn’t it? Knowing how to “nurse” your children long after they’ve stopped nursing? There’s an art to knowing how to calm their fears, soothe their anger and frustrations, stay connected, and show them how much you love them each and every day, no matter what’s going on or how crazy they’re making you feel. It was so much easier when I could just snuggle with them on my lap, attach them to a nipple, and watch their worries disappear. If only it could be that simple now! I am aware that the dream is processing this next phase of finality—of losing my breast, of teetering on the edge of having to watch my kids grow up and go, Luke pushing away only to pull back again, those tethers tenuous at best, the letting go paramoun to the inevitable loss. It's just so painful sometimes.

Overnight, I’ve felt the pinch of guilt—or perhaps it’s regret—and I’ve been wanting to go back and be kinder to the expander that’s helped me grow my new girl. Like one of those ugly, modular, temporary classroom buildings they often erect until the new, more-fabulous, permanent one can be constructed, the expander has done its job, after all, stretching the skin and pectoral muscle to create a pocket of space for the new implant, with a little extra skin for the natural droop and softness of comport that will help my new girl look more like a real breast, and not some freakishly hard, overstuffed artificial entity.

I suppose I didn’t want to sound ungrateful, because I am, and as much as I’ve complained about her, I know she’s been necessary, a real critical part of this reconstruction process, and for all her hard work—I salute her.

Ok, now she can go.

We’ve arrived at the Surgical Center at NWH. I’m always amazed at what I don’t remember from the last time: the route we take from the Marriott to NWH looks totally unfamiliar, and I realize how so many things slip away and off your radar when you’re focused on something else. I sit only long enough to read a bit about Paul Pierce in the newspaper, and then am hustled into the pre-op area, where I don the usual: hideous johnnie gown, gray no-slip socks, and sexy blue shower cap. The first nurse tries to get the IV set up in a vein on my right hand, but gives up after only one or two tries, declares my veins “delicate,” and leaves it to the anesthesiologist nurse to figure out. Delicate? Me? Can you have a pelvis like a mach truck and still be delicate?

Dr. Pitts arrives with her black sharpie in hand. She encircles the old incision, and points out the tiny bump, a slight puckering of the skin on the upper edge of the scar left over from the mastectomy, that she’ll smooth out during today’s surgery, thereby erasing all traces of the skin-stretching that took place over these past two and a half months. She makes a crescent moon-shaped sliver around the top part of my areola on my right breast where she will perform the lift—but explains that she’ll only do it if absolutely necessary; if the girls are well enough matched, then it won’t be worth the scar to have the lift done. I tell her that I will leave it up to her best judgment. I’ve realized that there are far more important things to think about. I refuse to get hung up on something so trivial. Lift or no lift, it really doesn’t matter that much to me.

The anesthesiologist arrives—an older man, and a Brit, judging from his accent. He is kind, wraps a warm towel around up my right arm to plump up my veins. A short while later, his assistant comes in and successfully gets the IV started, dispelling all rumors about my so-called delicate veins. She tells me I have big, juicy veins. Could have been a junkie (though I’m awfully glad I’m not). The nurse herself is a recent breast cancer survivor, and we share a few tales while she’s needling my veins. It’s always reassuring to meet other women who have beaten back the breast cancer beast, and are living their lives cancer-free and on their own terms.

When the OR opens up, things move quickly. I say good-bye to my mother, whose eyes have filled with tears, and the nurses wrap my lower legs with the pulsating squeeze action to pump blood throughout my body, lessening the risk of blood clots forming and working any mischief. They start the drip, drip of the sedative, and I try to keep the conversation going, but more likely, I am merely spouting gobbledygook, and they are rolling their eyes.

Suddenly, I am coming to. Big lights swing overhead; I am still in the OR. I feel them scrubbing my left side. “I think I woke up too early,” I say. “Don’t worry about it. We’re pretty much done here.” I feel like a floppy doll as they lift my head and torso off the table and wrap me up tightly. There is a sense of hustle and bustle. They are not rough, but they are not gentle, either. Efficiency has taken over. The oxygen mask rounds down on me, filling my system with an intense chemical smell that fries my lungs. Amidst all the shower caps and surgical masks, I see eyes only. People are talking around me and about me but not to me. They lift me from operating room table to a gurney, and I am wheeled to the first recovery area.

I think the clock says 12:30, but my eyes are pretty shot. I don’t remember much about being in the first recovery area, other than that my voice is husky with all the meds and I keep having to repeat myself. I start to feel some pain on my left side; despite my best efforts to ask for something less sinister, they administer some fast-acting morphine. This loss of control inherent in my best-laid recovery plan reminds me of the first birthing plan I concocted before Luke was born—full of the very best intentions to keep the labor as healthy and natural as possible—and how once labor set in, and I found myself hooked up to the monitors, reeling with Pitocin, and begging for something to help take the edge off, the birthing plan was suddenly blown to smithereens. After the morphine, Toradol, a liquid form of motrin, flows through the IV. Slowly, I claw my way to the outer reaches of awareness.

Once I’ve been moved to the outer edge of the recovery circle, where I sit in a recliner and try to navigate through the fog in my head, they offer me something to drink. My whiskey voice is weak. Cranberry juice, please, I croak. Pitiful. They bring me some saltines that glom and stick in my dry Morphine mouth. They bring over Vicodin, another glass of water. My mother arrives, carrying some pink roses from my father, who is visiting a friend but will stop in later. I ask for my hair brush—my hair, wet when I arrived, has dried in a tangled mess of curls. It feels good to brush it out and feel a little more dignified. You quickly learn that it’s the little things that matter—and dignity ranks high on the list when you’re sporting disposable underpants under an ugly johnnie gown, and you’re looking—and feeling—a little bit like a truck has quite run you over, and somehow, you’ve peeled yourself up and off the asphalt and are sitting there, wondering what to do next.

My mother reports that Dr. Pitts decided not to give my right girl a lift, that the expander—and now the implant—was positioned so well that she thought it just wouldn’t be worth having the scar around the right areola. I appreciate her decision for respecting who I am and anticipating what would feel best for me. That doesn’t always happen in the medical world. I’m also relieved, because it means my girls will get along without having to force the issue, and that my right girl may still be girlish enough to keep up with the left. And the more I talk with women, it seems that most of us aren’t perfectly symmetrical anyway, that nursing our babies, who invariably favor a side, creates an imbalance that often stays with us for the rest of our lives. And then there’s gravity! Imperfect, asymmetrical breasts are just one more of those well-earned vestiges of life experience, along with our scars and wrinkles, which I think most of us would never want to part with.

My father arrives just as the nurses are starting to crank out the paperwork. I walk to the bathroom, gingerly, with the help of a nurse, who carries my IV bag and makes sure I don’t caterwaul through the hallway. As I attempt to empty my bladder, I am reminded, again, of how much all my systems have slowed, and how much time it will take for the body to restore functionality and rebound fully. I change out of my hospital garb into more comfortable clothes, sign a few papers, and climb into a wheelchair. Eviction complete, it’s time to go.

I brace myself for the long ride home. I have not been looking forward to this, but the pain meds have done their job, and I feel okay. We drive through bubbles of stop and go traffic early along Route 2, but for the most part, it is smooth enough for me to write a little in my notebook, before breaching the wall of some strange kind of sleep to doze the rest of the way.

At home, I am glad for hugs from the boys and big wet sloppy kisses from Daisy, but I feel exhausted, a little nauseated, despite the Scopalmine patch behind my ear, and head-trippy. All I want to do is retreat to my room, find some quiet within. I’m tapping into a strange sensation of hovering between layers of wakefulness and some other level of consciousness that borders on hallucination and total flip city. I can’t sleep--my head instantly fills with imagery that makes me think I’ve gone totally insane. I can’t watch TV or a movie—it seems overly chaotic and loud, and only adds to the over-stimulation that courses through my veins. And I can’t read—the words are jumping all over the page, and my eyes can’t seem to still them long enough to actually understand what they are saying. On my bed, I lie on my back, knees up, eyes closed, but the effect is so strange that I get up and head outside to sit on the porch, trying to find some kind of center. The clouds have cleared out, and a light breeze sings through the trees, their tops ablaze with afternoon sun. I am content to just sit and feel the sun, and listen to the wind and the birds settling in for the night. It’s nice not to have to do anything at all.

At bedtime, I go to sleep reluctantly, my body screaming at me to give it rest and sleep, my heart urging me to stay up late to watch the Celtics game, my head playing broker to the two. My head, of course, wins out, its logic prevailing over the longing of my heart, to see the awesome Celtics crush the Lakers. I sleep fairly well, waking up at some point to down another blasted Vicodin, and resisting the temptation to turn on the TV and see who won.


This morning, I am subdued, trying to shake the hangover off and find some enjoyment in the day. I am moving slowly, but am feeling so much stronger than I did after my last surgery that I have convinced myself that this will be a much speedier recovery. There is much relief in knowing that my bandages do not have to be changed today, and that when I do remove them tomorrow, I will not have to deal with the shock of having lost my breast, only the joy of greeting a new girl. Both Dr. Pitt’s office and the NWH nurses have called, checking in to see how I’m feeling. Just fine, thanks, just a little constipated, bleary-eyed and nauseated. Nothing I can’t handle. I haven’t taken any more pain meds today, intent as I am to clear all the meds out of my system as fast as I can. My eyes are still funky, my lungs gunked up, my legs a bit unsteady, my throat sore and sticky from the breathing tube and anesthesia drugs. My Morphine mouth comes and goes, and my voice sounds like I was sucking down Thai gin-tinis and Tequila in my IV bag at some all night party. But it’s all good.

I’ve received several gifts today—emails from people I haven’t heard from in a long while, who wrote to add their good Juju to the mix, giving me a much-needed lift, urging me on. The best tonic of all was hearing how the Celtics demolished the Lakers last night in the final game of the championships. I have watched highlights. The sheer genius of Paul Pierce, the return of the shooters, the great defense that stymied the Laker’s usual prowess on the court. And the best part? The post-game jumping hug circle, of course. Ah, the power of Ubuntu!

This week and next, I will have to restrain from reaching for the pots and pans above my head, picking up the cat, or chasing a Frisbee down. For another four weeks, I’ll have to stay off my bike, resist the urge to play tennis, and sleep on my right side only. But tomorrow I see my acupuncturist again, and I’ll continue with PT as soon as I am up to it. I’m confident that I won’t have to take any more Vicodin, that my systems will clean out and re-energize with rest and good food, and that I’ll be feeling much more like myself in just a few days. Things take time, if you’ve got it to spare. Paul Pierce waited all those years for a championship. I can wait a little longer for my trophy. One step at a time. I'll worry about the What's Next later. For now, that means watching the thunder clouds roll in while I try to catch a little nap.

Be well, and remember: Anything is possible ~ Kevin Garnett

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ara Mi Le--My Whole Self is Well, There is Nothing Wrong with ME.

It's Monday morning, the day before my next surgery. Jim has gone to work, another day, another day. The boys and I are scavenging breakfast, getting ready to head next door to pick a load of strawberries to freeze for color and sustenance during the bleak winter months. Somehow, amidst continuing our homeschooling projects, picking, washing, and hulling fourteen pounds of strawberries for the freezer, and arranging my physical space for a comfortable re-entry on Wednesday, I must try to quell my rising anxieties about surgery tomorrow, put my head to the right tilt, and get ready.

As I prepare for my voyage to the suburban sprawl of Route 128 and Newton-Wellesley Hospital later this afternoon, I've been trying to decide

1. what to pack
2. what to worry about
3. what not to worry about.

The packing is easy--Tamoxifen, Vicodin, Cephalexin, Milk of Magnesia, tank tops (my beautiful new bras, unfortunately, have to stay locked up for another four weeks), comfortable pants and loose-fitting tops, tampax (yes, it seems the stars are aligned for my cycle to be in perfect tune with that of the moon and the surgeon's schedule), my current can't-put-down Jodi Picoult book, a few tokens of Juju spirit, love and friendship, and the usual assortment of personal care products that will not help me in any way look less bruised and exhausted after the surgery, but which I will bring with me nonetheless because it's okay to pretend, after all, that you don't look like hell when you really do.

The worries are there, and though I've put them on the back burner, they seem to percolate every now and then, nudging and prodding for attention when I am trying not to give them any. I don't even care to talk about them now. I'm doing my best not to give them the spotlight.

There's plenty to not worry about. I am in good hands. I am healthy. I will heal quickly. I am strong. I will have matching girls soon. I will be fine. After all, my doc is the best, and NWH is clean, comfortable, state of the art, completely prepared to set my old girl free and exchange her for a new girl, with a more winsome personality and perky appearance, without incident or accident or any sort of "dent" at all. The procedure will go swimmingly, and Dr. Pitts will marvel over how perfectly the surgery goes--on schedule, easy out, easy in, new implant in place on the left and gentle lift to the right, and all things symmetrical. Not perfection, but something akin to it. It's all anyone can hope for.

I suppose I'd like not to worry, about waking up from anesthesia (going to sleep is the easy part), hearing the guy next to me snoring, trying to focus my eyes and remember where I am, wondering why I feel like I've been sucking down tequila from shot glasses all night. But I do worry about all that. A little. Sometimes a lot, but usually not so much. Just enough to keep my stomach aflutter, and my breath aware of the need to expand outward and inward, deeper, deeper.


I'd like to ask the nurses to fill my IV bags with Thai Gin-tinis from Hope & Olive, but I'm sure they'd look at me funny, and I'd be forced to spend the remainder of my pre-op session trying to convince them that I wasn't a lush, after all, just a girl (ok, woman) filled with a yearning for simpler days.


Ironically, at Hope & Olive last night, where we enjoyed a delicious father's day dinner, the featured drink was tequila with grapefruit soda. I was tempted, I will admit, but thought my stomach would lurch at the all-too familiar heavy sweetness of the agave, the tongue-numbing, throat-burning sting of the final nip sips, the blessed, blissed out spin of the head towards the end of WWRFC occifer's meetings. Well, if only...(are johnnie gowns actually made of cotton?). I will not worry about it. Thai Gin-tinis on the other hand...

My friend Sonja, a fellow Used Bagge, sent me the above card after my last surgery. I'm sure she knew I would enjoy it, and I did. I stopped drinking when I was about 26, partly because I found out that I am allergic to alcohol (an epiphany that explained the hives that started to show up my freshman year after particularly rabid nights of imbibing, which I justified by telling myself that I was only allergic to beer at first, and then, when the hives reappeared after sharing a bottle of some cheap red wine, maybe beer and wine, and then gin, the beloved tequila, the slippery nipples, the little nips of warming peppermint schnapps that I kept in my long, striped rugby socks when playing fullback on the cold, hard pitch, waiting for someone to tackle, or for the ball to come my way, all crossed off my list, until pathetically, I was down to drinking Kamikazes, and then, nothing, and just the glow of sobriety about me for about six months--of heading out to the parties, enjoying myself sans drinks, and chuckling the next day when I would run into someone who would regale me with stories of how "wasted" I had been the night before. Uh-huh, sure I was.) and partly because it seemed like the right thing to do, given a blazing trail of alcoholism on both sides of the family that, as an inherited trait or predisposition, was starting to make itself known. In the last fifteen years, I've probably had about a half a dozen drinks, mostly gin and tonics, once a summer, or a Thai gin-tini from the lovely bar at Hope & Olive, and I've enjoyed them all, and while I have not suffered through any more hives, I am acutely aware of its power, and, like an untrustworthy old friend trying to get back into my life, I keep it at an arm's length, a comfortable distance.

My friend Clinton said that he imagined that "the cancer-survival experience must be a bit like the getting sober experience - there's a before and an after, and the two are really nothing alike. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed." I think he's right. We all have our befores and afters, those times in our lives when we've had to take a big leap forward, traverse the rapids, walk the spindly ladder bridge across the chasm, admonish our excesses, the deprivations, and neglect, and turn a corner in a search for answers, change, peace.

If I can keep my head up, perhaps I'll discover the remnants of a life lived without regrets, excesses, mistakes, and all. As Clinton reminded me (via this Lloyd-George quote), "You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps." And this, strangely, from the "Father of the hydrogen bomb, "When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."

I'm still finding my courage...one of these days...

Astrologically speaking, the time is ripe, of course, with the energy of Wednesday's Full Moon, Thursday morning's shift by Mercury into direct motion, and Friday's Summer Solistice, when the center of the solar system (the Sun) and the outer regions of our celestial home (Pluto) form their annual polarity, all convening to create a fiery, emotional time laden with opportunities, for leaving behind all that is no longer working, and adopting new patterns of growth and change.

“Right now you're the chrysalis breaking free of your old cocoon. You're feeling the winds of change blowing, but on the surface it may not look like much is happening. This is a delicate stage in your process of transformation. The chrysalis must sit and allow its wings to dry just the right amount of time so strength and success on its beautiful butterfly journey will be assured.”

It's interesting to me that my surgery--when this uncomfortable expander, that has clearly over-stayed its welcome, will be replaced by a new girl--is landing on a day when these extreme energy-fields in the cosmos are encouraging me to lose the old and move forward into the new, with open heart and mind. I am eager for this to be over and done with. I am eager to receive the energy of the after. My left side has been talking to me a lot in the past few days, the strange numbness in my shoulder and under-arm area intensifying the awkwardness of the expander's edge, that seems to dig ever deeper into ribs, over-stretching my skin, escalating into a feeling of just wanting to get it out. Time to go. Sayonara. Ciao, baby.

Just the other day, I received an email from a woman who had heard about my blog from a friend of hers who knew my mother; she herself had just been diagnosed with breast cancer in April, and has been reading the Flip Side for about a month. It means a lot to me that anyone reads the blog, these often-hastily scribbled brain drains and ruminations of the heart, and it means more when people respond to something I've written, because it lets me know that I am not, after all, alone, that someone out there is listening. So, when I heard from this kind woman, I realized that if I've been able to alleviate the fears of even one person going through this, then I've done something right. Her words came at a time when I was starting to lose my breath, feeling as if I was going under again, wondering where to find some light, a land line, a hand to hold. And her words offered me just that, uplifting me, and giving me courage, and I am grateful. "I wanted to tell you two things, " she wrote. "One, your words have helped me have the courage to accept all that is happening to me. Two, I want to wish you all the best for your surgery on Tuesday. You are not alone and my thoughts will be with you." Thank you, Maribeth. You have no idea just how much that means to me.

It's time for me to go pack my toothbrush, change out of my strawberry-picking shorts, and say good bye to the boys. I'll be in touch as soon as I can. My mother is arriving any minute to drive me to Newton, where we'll spend the night at the Marriott just a few miles from the hospital, wake up early, and head over to pre-op, to change into the lovely hospital garb, the johnnies, no-slip socks and voluminous blue hair net, volley the endless questions about name, birth date, and which side they'll be working their magic on, summon my inner warrior once again to face the demons of doubt and fear head on, and finally, relax into the pulse of good Juju flowing my way (thanks in advance for any you can muster!) and the drip, drip, drip of the sedative starting to flow through my veins. After surgery, which should take a couple of hours, and recovery, which should take a few more, I should be free to go, as long as everything is working as it should be (hence, the Milk of Magnesia), and return home, a long, bumpy two hour drive along route 2 that I could typically drive using just my knees--but that tomorrow, I will leave to my mother and her trusty Honda civic hybrid. I hope to be home by nightfall, to kiss the boys good night before slipping into a Vicodin-induced slumber. All good.

Everyone keeps telling me to laugh, laugh! to speed up the healing process and feel better sooner. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few links to some hilarity and creativity that we've been enjoying today: I will Survive! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN1dPtEph2U

Hit me, hit me, with a little chick pea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIybz6axr1Q&feature=bzb302

New animation by Blu…Harold and the Purple Crayon for the older set: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuGaqLT-gO4

And finally, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo1d6ttbAq8&feature=related

I leave you with words that Maribeth sent my way. They came to her via her djembe drum teacher: "Ara Mi Le" - My whole self is well, there is nothing wrong with ME.

With love,

Liz

Friday, June 13, 2008

Always Hold a Used Bagge by the Bottom

My poor chemical-laden dog Daisy is sleeping off her nasty meds in the shade; she's suffering, slightly, at least until a ball or frisbee appears, through her latest application of Advantix, that cursed, blessed combination of toxic gunk that keeps the fleas and ticks away but leaves her wondering why she feels like hell. I know how she feels. I have been aware that my next surgery, when I'll trade in expander for implant on the left, and refurbish the right with a slight lift, is fast approaching, and that soon I too will be trying to sleep off the nasty meds in the shade, and wondering why I feel like hell.

I have not wanted to think too much about it, because when I do, all I can see is the night nurse coming in to catheterize me, the endless parade of nurses and doctors, asking me my name and taking my vitals over and over again, filling me up with meds, disguised in drip bags and brightly colored pills...and those first impressions of my scar--the alien ugliness and strange, alarming beauty of the violent bursts of color on my chest, spiraling through the bruise cycle--that still haunt me in the mirror.


I have buzzed through my week, making preparations, running errands, and trying to organize things in a pathetic attempt to exert some kind of control over the images that haunt my waking steps and infiltrate my better dreams. It's a futile exercise, but somehow, it lends an illusion of control to make these days leading up to Tuesday infinitely more do-able. Otherwise, I'd be entrenched in my anxiety--about what's to come, about what I don't know, about what I do know, about what I've experienced before, and don't necessarily want to experience again. Part of it is not wanting to relinquish even the illusion of control come the 17th, when I must surrender to the Anesthesia gods and fantasize about filling the drip bag with tequila. And this, from an ex-party girl who stopped sucking down bottles of Jose' years and years ago! But wouldn't it be nice?

Just this morning, the buzz intensified. It was the kind of day that made me wonder how I got through it without stealing sips from a nip tucked away in a pocket. (Pathetic! I've never done that! Well--only when I used to get cold playing fullback for the WWRFC). After speed-picking several quarts of fat juicy strawberries with Dominick to start the day off just right (though it would have been better if we could have lingered), we took Luke to his doctor's appointment at 9:15, where he was finally able to remove the splint he's been wearing for the past six weeks to repair a ruptured ligament (basketball injury). Just an hour later, we had already hightailed it to the local food co-op, where we cashed in some coupons for free stuff (it's a bit like getting free gas these days) and marveled at the kindness of strangers (a nice lady offered Luke a quarter when the meter maid came by to evict him from the parked car and make him pay up), dropped off camp forms at the pediatrician's office, made a deposit at the bank, and finally, went to the library, where we returned some books that were wretchedly late (and again, kindness shone forth, as the librarian waived all fines, hurrah!) and picked out a bunch of new ones before heading home for lunch, more reading, and working on their ancient civ projects. At the end, I should have been hanging together by mere threads, my typical evening unraveling, but somehow, the hustle and bustle of the day worked, to quell the spasms of anxiety about not being organized, to dispel the inner strife around balance and free will and creativity, and compel me to cook a big dinner, and dessert to boot. Where did all this energy come from? Of course, it could very well be an illusion--and I'm actually exhausted, and am indeed unraveling as we speak, but just don't know it yet, and won't until Tuesday, when I'll welcome the sedative into my system like an old friend and slip into neverland, hand in hand, to worship the Anesthesia gods. I'll probably do that anyway, exhausted or energized. I have learned never to say no to a little, ah, rest.

There are signs that this current buzz will soon spin to a halt. Luke takes the SSATs tomorrow, signaling the end of a long spring of preparation and hard work. Dominick's baseball season has officially wound down; the only thing left to do is to scrub the grass stains out of the knees and return the uniform. We're eating salad greens and kale and chard and herbs out of our garden, and there are more vegetables announcing themselves each day. And the boys are fully entrenched in summer reading mode--I can't get their noses out of their books for much, except, perhaps, some frisbee on the lawn or fresh-out-of-the-oven strawberry rhubarb crisp. It's a wonderful thing, when they move from book to book (Dominick has three going right now), series to series, devouring page after page, always ready and eager for more, and seemingly blind to the vast number of distractions that could wreak instant havoc on their best-laid summer reading plans (for instance, a new PS2 game, the latest Celtics-Lakers UBUNTU! fest, or the season finale of Top Chef...). They read in the car, in the waiting room, during breakfast (yes, we all read at the table sometimes), on the couch, at the picnic table, under the tree, on the porch, in bed...

I wish I could join them. Soon enough...

It seems the hardest part is giving up being able to do whatever I have wanted to do--physically--for another four weeks post-op. After working hard to gain some strength and stamina back since my last surgery, I worry about losing it all over again. I started PT last week, and have made strides in easing the chronic hip, back, and knee pain that was nudging me towards early retirement from all contact sports (it was my future boxing career that I believed was most in peril). I even played squash last weekend, when Jim, the boys and I spent Saturday in Williamstown with my mother, eating far too much Indian food at Spice Root, crashing the class of '88's reunion, and yes, donning the dorky protective eye wear and hitting the crap out of the little blue ball in the white walled, red striped court that always makes me feel a little boxed in and happily insane (it's a good sport). My but-tocks were sore as heck from all that bending and reaching and kicking some 13-year old butt (it does feel good to still be able to beat Luke at something), but it was a good kind of sore, emanating from the depths of my hips and nates and speaking to me in a kindly way, Hey Liz! Yeah, we're a little out of shape, but thanks for taking us out for a spin! Of course, we only hear what we want to hear. They could very well have been saying, Liz, you fat shit! What the hell are you trying to do, kill us? Yadda-yadda. Whatever. They've recovered, and have stopped whining, and no matter what they were telling me, it felt good, and my girls, good girls that they are, didn't complain at all.

I was glad to squeeze some squash in, amidst the bicycling and frisbee and general running amok we've been doing, and survive it. And more than that, I was thrilled to see some old friends at Williams that weekend, and to reconnect with the spirit of our time there, when the most I worried about my girls was whether my strapless dress would stay up during the Homecoming dance. Most especially, I enjoyed seeing a healthy cache of my old Dennett House charges and fellow Used Bagges from the WWRFC, who still, after all these years, continue to lighten my load, brighten my gloomier days, and put a smile back on my face. In their honor, I wore an old rugby shirt to my PT appointment last week. The receptionist chuckled, "Oh, I love your shirt. Always hold a Used Bagg-ie by the bottom. " Baggie? I didn't have the heart to tell her that the Bagge was simply pronounced bag. I figured it didn't matter a bit. I headed into the PT room, where Laura, my therapist, started to work on my squash-tight butt muscles, digging her elbow into the side of my bottom, where the pain seared, spread, and then dissipated as I screamed silently into the pillow. Used Bagge indeed.

In addition to PT, I've also started to see an acupuncturist, and had my first session yesterday. After slipping into a deep relaxation for about twenty-five minutes, seven needles stuck in various points in my body, dislodging all that stuck, cranky chi so that it could flow freely throughout my body, I was finally able to see what all the fuss is about. I could easily become a needle-addict. All that blissed out serenity! Geez, where have I been? I could get used to that.

Tonight, we're enjoying the first strawberry rhubarb crisp of the season, our own little slice of rapturous delight. Needles? Who needs needles? Dominick has just asked me if I'd like some "Napoleon" on it. Napoleon? With his dirty little war-torn feet? No, but I'll take a scoop of Neapolitan, thank you.

Little by little, we are savoring the best of the season, jogging the memory, re-igniting the senses, and reminding ourselves of just why we live here. This time of year, the succulence of the strawberries is just the beginning. Just this week, we were treated to the whip of new air that filled and refreshed the house after a wicked, awesome thunderstorm that lit up the skies, still thick with the rumble and release of heat and humidity that had stuck to us like melted chocolate for three days. We've stained the tips of our fingers pink with the juice of the new strawberry season. We've swum in Laurel Lake, caught newts in a bottle, and brought enough sand home in our shoes to create our own beach. I even tried a bathing suit on--actually, I tried on all of my bathing suits--but none of them worked, at all--so decided instead to swim in my bra, surf shirt and shorts. I was a little overdressed, but at least my left girl wasn't shouting out Look at me! Look how much bigger I am than that one! Oy.

Thanks to the encouragement of friends, I have decided to go ahead with the lift on the right side--it's my best bet for not having to worry about having mis-matched girls. After all, I'm done with the invincible thing. And this Used Bagge needs to be held by the bottom--and the top, too, apparently, so my girls don't spill out and cause a ruckus. I'll leave all that to the younger set. As Dominick said the other day, "Actually, they sent me down from outer space to hypnotize you with my belly dancing." It explained a lot, actually.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We take to the road to pedal our mettle...


We've had so many great bike rides these past few weeks, that it's hard to imagine why I ever sold my racing bike. I've even unearthed my old biking shorts--the ones with the padded crotch--and though the padding has worn thin, a few holes have sprung in the buttocks, and the belly is stretched out enough to fit a woman four times as wide as me, they remind me of taking to the roads in Williamstown twenty some years ago, when I rode the surrounding hills in the same shorts and learned the joys and hazards of riding in a pack, and sometimes alone, without a helmet or dark glasses. Nowadays, I wouldn't dare go riding without glasses or a helmet; after all, not only do I have a responsibility to model good habits for my children, but I have as well as a much clearer sense of my own mortality. I dropped the invincibility thing a long time ago. Sometime after giving up the Iron Lungs m.o. and before becoming a mom. Been there, done that.

The boys and I take to the roads to relax, take in the charms of the day, calm our nerves, and reset our sense of calm. The surrounding hills are beautiful this time of year, with lush shades of green set out like a banquet. Splashes of colorful wildflowers erupt here and there, and along the roadsides, daisies bend their broad petaled faces toward the sun on spindly necks and wobbly knees. Strawberry season has arrived; and if we don't drop everything to pick our fill, we'll miss out on the incredible taste of summer. We'd ride our bikes, but returning home with a cache of strawberries might be too dangerous an enterprise. Quite happily, just a few doors down from us sits Upinngil, a lovely farm that grows bodacious IPM and organic strawberries, in addition to its incredible array of fresh raw, organic milk and cheese, honey, maple syrup, vegetables, and eggs, which we get hand-delivered by Malcolm, our trusty Egg Boy. Two mornings this week already, we have filled our box with piles of huge, red fruit warmed and ripened by the week's intense sun, taking care to save more than they we eat. We have emptied our final bag of frozen strawberries from last season; it is time to fill the freezer again for wintertime smoothies that melt away the iciness of the dark, cold season, when it's easy to forget why we ever wanted to live here in the first place.

But these late spring, early summer days, there's not much I would trade about living here. There's much that is expected--the early morning birdsongs that seem to repeat over and over until I am up, with the sun, to greet the long stretch of day and try to make no plans whatsoever; the near-evanescence of the strawberry season, rivaling that of sugaring time, when the sap buckets bang against the maples on blustery late winter afternoons and the steam rises from the small sugar houses that dot the landscape; the promise of bounty that radiates from the nascent vegetable garden, with everything growing overnight, in the crepuscular cool and midday heat; and the long stretches of meadow and lake and river and country road that beckon us, to take up paddles, lace up boots and climb on saddles, to ride the back roads and hike the less traveled trails, to see a different Gill from the one we grow weary of during winter's lock-in. And then there's the unexpected--the arrival of a large painted turtle in the garden one evening at dusk, a sudden splashing in the back pond, the skeow of the green herons, the discovery of a new swimming hole. My sense of wonder is in tact, and for that, I am grateful.

One day, we take the long loop around town and end up at the Wagon Wheel, a jaunty little drive-through on Route 2 that serves up tasty grass-fed burgers and curly fries (if you eat that kind of thing) alongside falafal, local greens salads with warm herb-crusted goat cheese, and mouth watering paninis. I buy the boys ice creams and a large honey iced herb tea for myself, and we sit and catch our breath and make sure the ice creams don't melt and drip before our tongues have tasted every last bit. Bellies somewhat full, we power our way up three giant hills, then down, down, down some fast stretches of road past the farms and cows that eye us suspiciously as we call out to them, "Hello, girls!"


I am well aware that my own girls do quite well on bike rides, that there is no soreness or tightness that interferes with my comfort on the ride, that my sports bra, while not disguising my asymmetry all that well, does a good job at supporting my ever-growing girl-in-progress, and that I feel fairly normal (mind you, I've never felt completely normal, and I see that as a good thing) while spinning my wheels around town. (this would contrast what I feel like when I try to run, even a few steps, to catch a giant frisbee, say, or lay a tag on one of the boys during a game of Pickle, and my left side aches and begs for me to stop, and I feel like an absolute freak.)

Girls aside, or maybe because of my girls, it feels great to be riding again, though it is somewhat bittersweet, since in just few days, I'll have to give it up for another month. I'm happy to know that it'll be there, waiting for me, when I'm ready to dive back in. And maybe, just maybe, I'll spring for a new pair of padded bicycle shorts, ones that actually cushion the crotch and don't show off my pink panties to the world.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ubuntu!

Wednesday into Friday ~

"A warrior must only take care that (her) spirit is not broken."

We saw a polar bear today. And you know, that's not something that I can say everyday. There were other unexpected delights to the day, too: watching a way cool spiny soft shell turtle move its head in and out of its shell as it followed us along the side of its glass enclosure; singing "What is love? Baby, don't hurt me..." to a hilarious barn owl, who swiveled and pumped his moon-faced head to the beat in a spot-on Jim Carey/Will Ferrell impression; and chatting it up with the adorable little river otter that popped his head up to the sound of our voices and waited for hand outs of fish that never came.

Most of the animals we took in at the Eco-tarium in Worcester today are frequent visitors to our slice of the fertile valley, and as interesting as they are to see up close, observing them in their natural habitat, and not in some sad (though necessary, given that most are injured and not able to return to the wild) enclosure, is much more gratifying and exciting--hawks and bald eagles circle and sweep our skies, sometimes land in the towering dead pines in our back wetlands, and nest at nearby Barton Cove; at least once every spring, female snapping and wood turtles make their way across the road into our streams and wetlands to slow traffic and lay their eggs; and red fox have become an almost daily sighting around here. Recently, we've been conversing with a small kit that always seems to emerge from one particular thicket along the road just as we pass by on our bicycles or car. We usually stop to say hello in sweet motherese, and as his eyes grow wide and his ears perk, Dominick remarks that maybe this is the day we should take the little guy home. And river otters frolic in the waters of the Connecticut, just a stone's throw away, and every now and then we'll come up on one or two in our kayaks. But polar bears?

Seeing poor Kenda, the huge female who has lived out (nearly) all her 25 years in the Eco-tarium, sprawled out on her fake plastic ice overlooking her pool of Arctic seas in her dingy outdoor space, left me thinking that this is just one more way that we've gotten it all wrong. (And I thought of the polar bears roaming the jungles of Lost, too, and imagined Kenda breaking out of her enclosure and roaming the urban jungle, where idiots like me tried to talk to her as if she were merely a lost dog on the lam).

Earlier, driving out on the road from the Pike to the Eco-tarium, it's easy to feel walloped by Route 9's dizzying mess of strip malls, office parks, big box stores, car dealerships, and the ribbons of BUY CRAP! sentiment that seems to go on forever. Light after light after light, the glare of the plastic artificiality, cumbersome, oversized construction, and asphalt desert blinds, sears, and grows entangled with regret. We stop at a Borders to buy the latest books in two series that the boys have been anxiously awaiting; all those books laid out in neat, colorful stacks, and all I can see are trees. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The roads are laid out for the long commute, the parking lots are filled with luxury SUVs, their owners out doing their over-consuming and gas-guzzling, and all I can think of is the way the fog was rising and rolling over the tree tops along Route 2 this morning as we headed out of Gill, the grayish white wisps of clouds appearing phantasmic and lovely and ethereal.

We've come from Wellesley, where I've met with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Pitts, to discuss my next surgery. Her assistant takes several "before" pictures. I try to imagine the "after" pictures, and file a mental note to start working on my six-pack. I try to stand up straight and tell my girls to smile. Dr. Pitts arrives to take measurements of my right girl so she can chose an implant for the left that will match perfectly in congruence, symmetry, and droop. She has me stand in front of the mirror, points out that the expander is sitting just where it should be, that it no longer seems too high, but that a small lift in my right breast--something she could perform during the exchange surgery--would bring it all together in a near-perfect balance and radiance. As I expected, my new breast is being created to look like my 16-year old breast, and not, it seems, like my worn-torn, well-seasoned, 42-year old breast. She lifts my right breast with her finger to show how a mastopexy, the official name for a breast lift, would bring it up and more to the middle, to where, I suppose, it used to be when I was a virginal sixteen, restoring that well-centered perkiness and charm of my yesteryear, and better matching it to the sprightly joviality of my new girl. I see her point, I really do, but I cannot give her an answer just yet. The downside is that I will have a small scar around the areola if I decide to go ahead with the lift, and some residual soreness that I most likely won't notice much, given how sore my left side will be (even though it was awfully nice to not have any pain on the right side after the mastectomy).
But just how important is this to me? I decided to go ahead with reconstruction on the merits of symmetry, after all, but just how far will I take it? I opted out of going "bigger," choosing instead to preserve some sense of self and humility, I suppose--based on the idea that my breast size has worked just fine for all these years, thank you, so why would I change it now? Now, when given the choice, do I opt for an attempt at near-perfection? Reconstruction and restoration? Will it matter if my left is still a bit droopy (and trust me, droop is all relative--I've seen some serious droopage, and mine are still pretty darn perky in comparison) while my right shines like the sun? Will I care?

This whole process feels to me a bit like when you've re-painted one room in the house and it looks fabulous and suddenly you start to notice how faded and worn out the rest of the house looks when it looked just fine before you painted that one room in the house and screwed everything up.

That happened about two years ago when I painted Dominick's bedroom over--and suddenly, all I could see were the smudges and dirt and cracks and faded, sun bleached paint on the rest of the house's walls--and it made me wish I had the time and energy to repaint the whole house, but also set me on an annoying course of noticing all the other ways our house, which we built ten years ago, has weathered two children and dogs and cats and well, life. The scratches on the hardwood floor, the battered, warped, perma-stained look of the wooden kitchen cabinets, the clawed remains of the furniture. I suppose my body isn't so different. Once you start bettering one thing, you're going to want to improve the whole she-bang. Is that such a bad thing?

I used to watch snippets of Extreme Makeover with a detached revulsion--the women who went in for a life-changing nose job were suddenly wanting a boob job and a butt lift and a tummy tuck and a tooth whitening and it seemed as if there was no end in sight to the improvements they wanted to make. Hey, you've got great teeth, but boy, your butt is dragging on the floor! Why don't we skim the fat and make you some lovely new big breasts so you can feel really great about yourself? Sometimes I wonder how they would have fared with a really great haircut. Maybe that's all it would have taken--but they were never given the chance. It had to be extreme, after all. Our culture feeds on it.

And now, here I am, having to make a choice I never imagined I would have to make. The mindless, shallow, plastic superficiality of the over-consuming, unconscious culture of our big box world repulses me, and yet, my choices might not be so ample and well, safe, if it were not for some elements of that world that pushed the techniques through trial and error to the level of sophistication that breast reconstruction surgery now employs. If it were not for the women who came before me, to not only be reconstructed after a breast-cancer-induced mastectomy but quite possibly, to be outfitted with larger breasts just-for-the-helluva-it as well, I wouldn't have had the reconstruction, symmetry would not have been an option, and I would not know so much about re-growing girls. It's all part of the same world, after all. And it's impossible to say that one kind of need or surgery begot the other, or whether co-evolution was at work, with each market pushing the shared, symbiotic nature of the technology along, but logic would tell me that I would not have these wonderful choices to make if not for the culture, however malevolent, that advanced cosmetic surgery to the point where it is now.

"I am what I am because of who we all are." That's the creed behind UBUNTU, the African philosophy of humanity to others that Doc Rivers, Celtics coach and apparent mage, brought to his team at the start of the season, to learn and play and live, not always easy in a world of cut-throat competition and superstar play. I watch the whole of the Celtics play--the experience, substance and tireless play of the big three, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, the dependable, under appreciated Perkins, the promising upstart, Rondo, with his flashes of brilliance, and the bench--the 38-year olds, Cassell and Brown, who have brought new vigor and pluck to the mid-life game, and the spunk of House, Posey, Powe and Big Baby--and am struck by the many parts working together to create a lovely, imperfect whole.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~ Aristotle. Yep.

Sometimes, everything comes together in a perfect juxtaposition of parts that makes you only see the perfect whole. We all have our imbalances, our imperfections. We would not be without them. What would the gundy gut be without his paunchy belly, hanging over his waistband? What would the jackanapes be without his impertinent, overflowing boasts? What would the flibbertigibbet be without her scatterbrained spout of ceaseless chatter? What would I be without my scars that tell the stories of my youth, my laugh lines and wrinkles that run railroad tracks across my face, the crooked, slightly squashed bend to my nose, the...oh, I could go on and on! Suffice it to say, I wouldn't be me, and you wouldn't be you, without all your wonderful idiosyncrasies.

"Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality" ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
But my breasts will never look the same, despite Dr. Pitts' best efforts. Even if my right girl decides to "have some work done," she'll never be 16 again. And why would she want to be? She worked hard nursing my two boys for nearly six years between them, and well, if wrinkles are the seasoning of the stew that is Life, than a bit of droop can only add more flavor to the pot.

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been. ~ Mark Twain

I tell Dr. Pitts I will have to think about whether or not I want to have the lift done. She explains that I can always have it done later, but that it is always easier to have it done at the time of the exchange surgery, when I'm already out for the count. She reminds me of my four weeks of restrictions after the surgery: no bras, (but no drains or strange strap to wear, either), no lifting, no rigorous activity, no sleeping on the left side. I am already starting to lament going four weeks without biking, playing badminton, catch, Frisbee. I have enjoyed my few precious weeks of all-out activity with Luke and Dominick--after spending the first few weeks of my recovery walking all over town, I switched to bicycling a few weeks ago, and it has been great fun to wheel about the hills of Gill with the boys by my side and the beautiful landscape--sonorous and animated and ardently green--all around. It'll be hard to give it up for a month, especially smack dab in the middle of summer, when climbing on your bike and scaling the heights of the hills only to coast down in a spiraling joy that brings back banana seat bike days and fills your whole body with breeze, can be the best antidote to the hot muggies that seem to grip our July afternoons.

There will be other ways to stay cool, to get out my ya-ya's, to commune with the resounding blush of early summer: sitting in front of the trusty window fan, standing underneath the sprinkler, or sipping sun tea in the shade; walking in the early morning to avoid the wilt of the midday sun; fighting mosquitoes and weeds in the garden; floating in a kayak and letting others paddle for a while. Oy. I'm trying to get over the disappointment of having to swing out of my current state of rigorous and vigorous activity and return to the keeping-my-inner-puppy-quiet stage, but as you can see, it's not working all that well. Maybe I'm just being a baby. Maybe I don't want to have to go through another surgery. Maybe I'm afraid, of being knocked out again, of having to expel the gunk clogging up my blood and lungs and liver, of the scalpel and the needles and the IVs, of feeling as if I've lost my footing, again, my forward motion suspended, my mettle misplaced. Maybe I'm afraid of having to depend on others again for things I'd like to be able to do myself, of being disappointed, of falling back into the blues that keep knocking on my door. Maybe I'm afraid of meeting my new girl. What if she doesn't measure up? What if she weeps? What if my body rejects her? Maybe I'm just afraid of the commitment; after all, we'll be together for at least thte next twenty years, when perhaps, she'll wear out, and look as sad and sorry as my other 62-year old girl will feel (even if I opt for the lift, and she still looks, ah, 30).

Whatever the reasons, I'm looking forward to resuming my recovery after the surgery. I've been able to start physical therapy for my knee and hips, after having nerve-conduction studies and MRIs and consultations with neurologists to rule out MS and other diabolical diseases and conditions, and since there are many more repairs to be made, I hope to be able to continue with PT and bicycling and all-out yoga and peeling back and rebuilding the layers of good health. There's always mending to be done, holes to be darned, strings without tethers, buttons to be replaced, gardens to be tended, a new nipple to be constructed...it's the way of growing older, the dignified way we have of reinventing ourselves while making our constant repairs, an endless recycling and rebirth that kindles the spirit of each day and each breath. I am here. I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful...Ubuntu!

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. ~Author Unknown