Thursday, January 30, 2014

BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY

Winter at Home - January 2008
The start of 2008 was a welcome new beginning to the next part of my post-cancer life.  Getting back to work was something that was going to get me back on a schedule and back to being around people again.  I was kind of looking forward to it but at the same time I was scared.  I had been locked away in our cancer world and at home for so long that the thought of getting back into the routine of work and using my brain again was a bit daunting.  Fortunately I was able to go back gradually on instructions from my health care team.  It made sense to go back for only 3 days a week for a month, then up it to 4 days a week for another month and finally hitting the 5 days a week after that.  The other great thing was that I was able to work a day a week at home.

So as I slowly got back into the work cycle I realized how much of an adjustment it was.  I was tired a lot of the time and spent many times second-guessing myself.  It occurred to me that my mind was now being exercised and it was about time I started doing more for my body.  Even though I was tired a lot I knew that exercise might be just what I needed to increase my energy levels and also boost my spirit and my self-confidence.  So I joined yoga and pilates.  Never had I ever done either of these activities before but I figured why not?  That was kind of my new mantra.  I had gone through the “this is not forever but just for now” mantra during the worst part of the cancer treatments and now that I had survived that I wanted to really live again and try new things and I seemed to have no fear.

My Family - Spring 2008
One day I woke up and my abs were killing me because I had done yoga the night before and the night before that I had done pilates.  It sure felt good to get exercising again.  It feels great to have sore abs!  I felt like maybe I really was back and ready to move on to a regular routine and life filled with activities.  I actually almost started to cry at yoga the first night.  We were doing a position that was really stretching out the arms and it hit me that the previous winter, after the mastectomy, I couldn’t even lift my arms.  I remember at the time I tried pushing with all of my might and it wasn’t that it hurt to try and move my arms it was that I just felt nothing.  It was numb and I couldn’t lift my arms much past my waist.  I was amazed that now I could stretch out completely.  It was quite a realization about how bad things were and how quickly my body seemed to be recovering.

Our life was humming along and we were settling back into a routine but we were also in need of a little time away.  So, our friends invited us to a chalet in Saint Sauveur and we had a fantastic weekend of skiing, snow-tubing, and simply enjoying the outdoors and our friendship.  It was just what we needed!  What a great thing to do to switch up your mindset, help you see things in a different light and just enjoy living.  I was able to snow-tube but was not strong enough to ski.  Not yet anyway.

Back to Life, Back to Reality - Soul II Soul

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

COUNTING STARS

My Family - Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts - Summer 2004
December 5, 2007 was a pretty amazing day for me.  That afternoon I arrived at the hospital right on time to have my port-a-cath removed.  The young fellow that took me up in the elevator and showed me to the right room asked me if I was nervous.  “Hell no!” was my answer.  “I’ve been through enough other stuff this year that this little thing is no big deal.  In fact I just can’t wait to get it done!”  He smiled at me like I was a tad bit crazy or something but was very polite and wished me well.

I didn’t have to wait very long and before I knew it I was in a little room with a gown on, lying down and waiting for the doctor to come in.  There was a TV so the nurse gave me the remote and I found an old episode of the Cosby Show and watched that for about 10 minutes.  I always loved that show.  The doctor and nurse came in shortly and they were ready to get on with this little minor surgery right away.  They wanted to make sure that I was okay because I guess a lot of people get nervous and some even change their minds about the whole thing.  Not me.  I couldn’t understand that at all.  I told them how happy I was that I was getting this port out because I wasn’t going to need it anymore.  Plus it was a daily reminder of the cancer and I simply wanted it gone.

My Family - Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia - Summer 2010
They gave me a local anesthetic so I didn’t feel a thing.  The doctor made an incision and removed the port and then sewed me back up.  It only took about 15 minutes or so and we were done.  I thanked them both a few times during the procedure.  We all chit-chatted throughout the entire thing and I really was truly happy.

When I left the Cancer Centre and headed outside to my car I felt like my step was lighter and my head was in the clouds.  I paid the parking guy, made my way to the on-ramp and drove up onto the highway.  I was heading home and for the first time in a long time I felt free.  I felt like a huge weight had been lifted and I was flying down the highway, observing the speed limit of course, until I got just outside of the city.  At that point I lost it and started to shake and cry.  It was kind of the same sort of relieved feeling that I had when I got the results of the pathology report after the breast surgery.  I had to pull over.  I called Mike and sobbed over the phone with him and he was so happy for me and I was crying but I was so happy and thankful that I was done.  I mean I was DONE!  This last little surgery represented so much more.  It was the last thing I had to do.  Now I was free and I could move forward with my life.  With our life.

Me - December 2007 - Greely, Ontario
That night when the kids got home and Mike was there and we were all together they told me to ring the bell.  Ring the victory bell Mom!  We are so proud of you and you did it!  We knew you could do it and look at how strong you are and how brave and how awesome!  I couldn’t have come through this so well without my amazing family.  I told Mike as he was holding me close to his chest and I could hear his heart beating that I simply wanted to say “thank you”.  He has always been my strength and the one person that I could count on always.  Always by my side.  In sickness and in health.  You don’t realize at the time you make your wedding vows how those vows will become so incredibly important and how much they could be tested over the years.

My children too were so strong and mature and responsible.  I told them that.  I also told them that if something like that had of happened to my Mom when I was their age that it would have scared the crap out of me.  I told them that they were my heroes and in fact it was them that were the brave ones.  I just did what I had to and what choice did I have anyway?  Mike eventually said enough already would you just ring the damn bell?!?  So I did.  Many times.  Very loud.  With much bravado and a smile on my face, I looked at these three people, my family, and at that moment I felt joyful and truly blessed.  It was a wonderful Christmas that year.

Counting Stars - OneRepublic





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Sunday, January 12, 2014

LIKE A VIRGIN

Mike & I - Christmas 2013 - Greely, Ontario
In early October 2007 it came time for yet another surgery.  This time I was scheduled to have a hysterectomy.  This was not something that I had to do but it was highly recommended by my doctors.  Since the cancer I had was driven by hormones, it only made sense to try to eliminate the possibility of it starting somewhere else in my body.  I already had two wonderful children so of course I had to consider this hysterectomy quite seriously.

I decided to go for it and have it done.  As much as I was not thrilled at being back at the hospital again, I wanted to be sure that I did everything possible to ensure that this cancer never came back.  I did not want to have any regrets.  Going back to the hospital always made me feel yucky.  I really have no other word other than just that – yucky.  The surgery itself was not so bad and except for the first few days the recovery was much better than I expected.  In fact I was feeling pretty great by the time Halloween rolled around.

Every year for the past few years one of my friends has hosted a Halloween party.  There is always a fun theme and in 2007 it was an 80s theme.  I was really looking forward to getting out for the first time in a long time.  So, I naturally dressed up as Madonna and was able to wear my fake boobs to fill in the gaps.  Mike dressed as a head-banger-rocker-dude and we went to the party and had a blast!

Madonna & the Rocker - Halloween 2007
Since I had been home for several months and had recently just had a hysterectomy, I was a bit out of practice with socializing.  You may not think about it but when you are by yourself most of the time it really does take some effort and practice to get back to a place where chatting with people is easy again.  I was excited to get out but I was also feeling nervous too.  I had a glass of wine or two and that helped me relax.  The eighties music was playing all night and we danced and danced and danced.   I danced more than I had in years!  It was an absolute wonderful time but I think I scared a few of my friends that knew I had just had a hysterectomy a few weeks prior to the party.

Anyway, that party made me feel really, really, really great and I had so much fun and felt like a normal person again.  Finally.  What a wonderful way to feel.

Like A Virgin - Madonna

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

THE MAN IN THE MIRROR

Summer 2007 - Minden, Ontario
By the fall of 2007 I had been living breastless for several months.  I thought I finally had a handle on how I was feeling about it.  The cancer was gone and I should be happy.  I was never defined by my bra-size so I found it odd that at times I was bothered by my appearance.  Most days I was fine but on others I was not.  That surprised me somewhat because I didn’t expect to feel like that.

One night we were at a hockey party and I caught sight of myself in the rather large mirror on the wall.  I was surrounded by my son and his team mates.  With my short hair and flat chest I looked like one of them!  I looked like a boy.  Wow it really hit me right at that moment that maybe I really needed to give this whole reconstruction thing and/or prostheses options some more thought.  Could I really go through the rest of my life boobless and feeling unattractive and unsexy and basically like a 12 year old boy? I mean when did I change?  I was never defined by my breasts before and I never ever thought that I could possibly feel this way.  I guess you never know how you might react to a situation until you experience it first-hand.

I went home from that party feeling very confused, scared and unsure of so very many things.

The very next day I made a call to a shop that specializes in prostheses and made an appointment to check it out.  I was not sure what to expect but when I got there the staff were so great and made me feel a bit more comfortable.  Believe me I was not feeling so comfortable about this whole thing.  Anyway, this mastectomy shop had breast forms in every possible shape and size.  They also had the bras to insert the prosthesis into along with swimsuits and other inserts that are completely waterproof.  I bought a set of swimsuit forms and another set of the silicone breast prostheses and a bra.  The cost was a bit on the expensive side but it was covered partially by my health insurance.  I was pretty excited to try this out but part of me was not totally convinced that this was for me.

Summer 2011 - Vancouver, BC
As soon as I got home I tried on the bra and my new “breasts” with some of my regular clothes.  At first it was fine.  I wore them around the house but the more I looked at myself in the mirror the more I didn’t like them.  I guess I had lived with nothing on my chest for so long that these new accessories seemed completely out of place.  Plus I found that it just didn’t seem natural to me.  I felt like crying.  I had such high hopes and so many women use these and seem okay with it.  I was not okay with it.  Just like the wigs, I could not stand to wear something that was not part of me.  It was not making me feel comfortable or good at all.  So, I packaged everything up and decided that I would try it again in a few weeks.

Except for Halloween when I was dressed as Madonna, I never wore them.  After more than a year, I ended up returning them to the lady that owns the mastectomy boutique where I bought them and asked her to pass them on to someone else that might be able to use them but that might not be able to afford them.  Someone might as well use them.  I hope they found a good home.

The Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson


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