A New Normal

I keep waiting for my body to feel ‘normal’ again.  I think, because I’m a hopeful person, I keep hoping that my body will go back to feeling how it did pre-cancer, pre-surgeries.

I’m just about done waiting….

Around 11 months ago my brilliant surgeons went in and removed all of my breast tissue, replacing the undesirable tissue with temporary implants, and eventually permanent implants.

Yes, that’s 11 months for me to get used to a new body, a new normal.  Yet I still wait.

I still can’t hold several yoga postures.  Or, if I manage to get into the posture, I find it difficult to get out of it.  I still have difficulty closing the hatch on my car (and that’s using two arms, my old way of doing it with one arm is definitely out of the question).

So I took up tai chi, thinking I’ll continue to build my strength doing my regular workouts, and eventually I’ll go back to yoga.  I haven’t given myself the option that some yoga postures are un-doable for me, they’re just something I can’t do now.  As for the hatch on my car, well, that’s when my boys come in very handy.

But there’s lifting luggage to contend with, there’s watermelon to put in the shopping cart, then the car, then in the house.  There’s any number of things that serve as reminders:  my body is different.  It’s not the same.  

Rationally, I know that as I grow older these things would have become difficult for me.  But it would’ve been a gradual process.  A process occurring so slowly that perhaps I would’ve developed methods to compensate on a physical, as well as emotional level.

But that’s not What Was.  Not What Is.

So I remind myself, as I’ve shared with you on numerous occasions, to focus on What Is.

What Is?

  • I am cancer free.
  • I am healthy.
  • I am stronger emotionally because of the experience.
  • I have grown spiritually.
  • I don’t have the upper body strength that I used to.
  • I am slowly becoming okay with asking for help, which can feel vulnerable.
  • I have dead patches where the nerves haven’t yet regenerated.  I let go of the idea that in order to feel normal again, they must regenerate and produce feeling.  If they do, fine.  If they don’t, fine.

I am inching closer to embracing a new normal.

And I will be truthful with myself:
I will no longer avoid yoga, just because my body can’t do what it used to.

I will recognize my ego when it shows up, acknowledge it, and refocus on What Is.

I will be okay with my best.

Where in your life are you waiting for your new normal?  After ending your marriage, are you waiting for your new normal to appear?  After moving to a new city, or starting a new job, or losing a big client, or ending a friendship — where?  Where are you waiting for your new normal?

Your new normal is here.  It is upon you.  As mine is upon me.  Embrace What Is.  It’s here to help us grow, to teach us something, to serve its purpose.  What Is is our Truth.

And I Trust it.

If you live your life with the understanding of What Is, there is no waiting. 

Being Wrong Ain’t Always Bad

Doctors, Doctors, and More Doctors

Between my older son and I, we have almost every ~ologist, as he calls them, that you can imagine.

Endocrinologist, nephrologist, radiologist, neurologist, pediatric ophthalmologist, dermatologist, gynecologist, audiologist, and now, an oncologist.  Then there are the non-ologists: ENT, geneticist, breast surgeon, and a few others I’ve probably forgotten, but these are the regulars.

Although I never dreamed our family would have the need for a pediatric endocrinologist (to monitor a completely non-functioning thyroid in my son), two nephrologists (kidney doctors), a geneticist (to tie this lovely mess together for me), or many of the other doctors, I must say, I really never dreamed I’d need a plastic surgeon.

And, I’m embarrassed to say, I never knew how much I could appreciate the profession.

Plastic Surgery?  Really??

In college I had a close friend who wanted to become a doctor.  Over the years I’d watch his choices in schools, in fellowships, in specialties, always curious to see where he would land.  And after many years of basically trying it all, he chose plastics.

Plastics?, I thought.  Cool, and I do mean cool choice, but why?  He’s brilliant!  I didn’t get it.

See, I didn’t understand the depth of the profession.  I thought it was just about looks — the cosmetic stuff.  And although I certainly knew there was a reconstructive piece to plastic surgery, I suppose I really didn’t give it much thought.

To be clear, let me touch on something I just said:  “I thought it [plastic surgery] was just about looks….”  First of all, I know there’s no “just” about anything having to do with looks.  Think about how much time we spend daily showering, shaving, make-uping, fixing our hair, our nails.  Our total grooming time is substantial!  There’s no such thing as “JUST” when it comes to looks.  I do understand that.  Yet still, I never gave much credence to the plastic surgery profession.

Until I met Dr. Antonetti.

Interview MORE Doctors?

When I first met Dr. Antonetti, the man who would be performing my reconstruction, it didn’t occur to me to even interview him — that’s what little attention I gave to the role of a plastic surgeon, to plastic surgery in general.

I had done some serious homework on choosing my breast surgeon.  After our first few meetings, she leaned over her desk, handing me a list of names saying, “I only work with three plastic surgeons.  Here are their names.  After you’ve interviewed each, you can let me know which you choose.”

Interview more doctors??  No.  The process to choose her had been arduous enough.

Without glancing at the list, I handed it back and said, “You know my personality.  You choose the one you feel is right for me.”

Yes, it was an act of Trust.  It was my way of saying to her, “We’re a team.  I trust your judgement to do what’s best for me.”  And if I’m really honest, there was another element at play.  It was indicative of my dismissive thoughts on the role of the plastic surgeon.  I mean, really, if she only works with three, they all have to be good at what they do, right?  Does it really matter who she chooses?  Will it really make a difference?

I’m sure the other two would have been just fine.  Each would have performed brilliantly with a scalpel in his hand.  But now I  understand something more.  The way we look at ourselves and truly SEE ourselves is hugely important on an emotional and psychological level.  My plastic surgeon understands this.  And in his gentle, understated way, he taught this to me.

My Medical Anchor

He calls me his little Rock Star, in terms of my healing.  And although my belief system is at the core of remaining positive throughout this whole cancer chapter, he, Dr. Antonetti, has been my medical anchor.  He reminds me every week that my healing is going fabulously.  He monitors my physical well being, as well as my emotional.  And every step of the way, whenever I’ve had doubts, he has been the ever patient soul to guide me through it.

Shame On Me

How quickly we make up our minds about people, professions.  How humbling to find out we were wrong — that I was wrong.  It’s through the wrong, that I’m able to grow.  Being right all the time may feel good for a moment, but those waters will soon become stale, stagnant.

Dr. Antonetti, you tied this whole experience together for me.  You were the one who prescribed all of my medications, monitored me on them, told me when I could drive, when I could exercise, walk the dog, do yoga.  You changed all of my dressings yourself, each and every time.  And you taught me how I could see myself differently.  What an incredible lesson that I will be forever grateful for.  Thank you.

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, I went from not thinking too much about plastic surgery, to understanding that it’s what grounded my entire experience, what grounded me;  it was eye opening.

Yep.  Being wrong ain’t always bad.

plastic surgery

Surviving Life

Surviving Life

I’ve written about being a Sur-Thriver: Thriving after cancer, not only Surviving it.

One of my favorite poets, Mark Nepo, also feels he thrived after cancer.  Today however, I’d like to share some of his words of wisdom on surviving.  Oh, the lessons Mr. Nepo teaches us on Surviving Life….

The Wisdom to Survive

Nepo frames his short essay, “The Wisdom to Survive,” by offering a brief anecdote by Paula Poundstone:

“My mom said she learned how to swim.  Someone took her out in the lake and threw her off the boat.  That’s how she learned how to swim.  I said, “Mom, they weren’t trying to teach you how to swim.”

“The Wisdom to Survive”

Reframing what happens to us can be a healthy way to survive terrible things, or it can become a veil of denial that keeps us from moving on.  Often, we simply have to trust that we will see the truth of things when we are strong enough and ready.

Yet the danger in not seeing things as they are or were is that we can start to believe that in order to learn something we need someone to throw us off the boat, or out of the relationship.  If we can’t see the difference between the cruelty or hardship we experience and the wisdom waiting in our reflex to survive, we can find ourselves needing crisis and pain in order to learn.  While much learning comes from crisis and pain, not all of it needs to.

We don’t need something to go wrong in order to change.”

By Mark Nepo, October 23
The Book of Awakening

Surviving Life

Learning Through Crisis

Much of my early learning, as a young girl, was through crisis.  I, too, was thrown into a pool to ‘learn’ how to swim.  I learned to fear snakes by having a rattlesnake roam loose in our house.  I would hear the rattler at random times throughout the day, petrified it would appear at the exact spot where I stood — the toy box, my bathtub, around the next corner….

I learned how to trust by encountering over and over again experiences with people who were untrustworthy.

And I survived it all.  I survived it with a sense of truly understanding what Trust means.

As Nepo writes, “While much learning comes from crisis and pain, not all of it needs to.  We don’t need something to go wrong in order to change.”

Wise words from a wise man.

I no longer learn only in times of crisis.  I learn in the still moments of life, too.  I am able to observe in the quiet spaces between experiencing life’s so-called drama.

How do you learn life’s lessons?  Do you seek the thrill and drama of crisis in order to recognize a learning opportunity?  Do you chase that same thrill and drama in order to feel alive?  Or are you able to learn in the still?  In the quiet, when you are not being driven by adrenaline induced excitement?

How do you Survive Life?

Mark Nepo

Related article:  “Chinese Symbol for Crisis”

“The Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ combines figures that depict both danger and opportunity.”

 

A Little Honey and Lemon

On the drive home from my post op visit with the plastic surgeon, a girlfriend turned to me and said, “Now if that’s not turning lemons to lemonade!”

While in the doctor’s office, she saw ALL.  You might think she got an eye-full of these beautifully reconstructed breasts.  Well, maybe.  But she also got to see the scars, old and new (eight incisions in total of varying lengths) and the bruising.  Oh, the bruising.

As you see, I’m not sugar coating here.  I, in fact, still cringe slightly at the reflection in the mirror.  I was not quick to embrace the scars.  And the bruises, although they will fade soon, are quite prominent now.

With each glance, a cringe.  With each hug from my children or from well meaning friends, a cringe.  One emotional, one physical.  The physical will dim in time.  But the emotional?

As I’ve mentioned before, my brain knows the cancer is gone.  My brain knows that’s what’s important; it knows what matters.  I also know I’m not a person rooted in vanity, so seeing the scars and bruises aren’t so much a vain attempt to want my former body back, but more of an emotional grappling of what my body has been through.

And although it doesn’t make sense on a brain level, when I look in the mirror, I feel like a failure.

Rational?  No.  But true?  Yes.  I don’t even know how to reconcile the two.

Then my friend made her comment about lemons.  Lemons made me think of honey (remember, I’m the Tea Queen), which led me to a poem I read recently by Antonio Machado:

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – – marvelous error! – –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

~~~~

What failure have I committed?  Where exactly have I failed?  Because I had cancer?  Because I wasn’t perfect?  And I was SO NOT-PERFECT that it took several months and a slew of surgeons to fix me?  Is that it?

Failures, honey, lemons, scars, bruises….  I’m not positive how they all tie together, but I have a vague feeling that the answer lies under the surface of my realm of consciousness.

This time, before I try to sort out and think this one through, surely causing my head to spin all along the way, I’m stopping myself.  I’m going to Let Go before I even start, knowing all is how it’s meant to beIf the answer comes to me one day, good.  If not, good.

For now, I’ll share with you some of my favorite words on Failure:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”  ~ Confucius

“Failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for great responsibilities.”  ~Napoleon Hill

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  ~ Truman Capote

~~~~

Have you experienced a failure recently?  A few maybe?  Happy Failures to All!!