Photography 101: Moment

I know that this is a photography prompt, but this scene so perfectly captures the essence of the prompt that I couldn’t resist. And, hey, I did take this video with my camera.

I was shopping at Whole Foods market in Florida this past Spring on a warm, beautiful day. As I stood outside waiting for my mother to check out, this elderly man sat down at the piano by the entrance and began to play.

He played several songs, including “The Entertainer”, a ragtime favorite. I was riveted to him and hated to leave. What an unexpectedly delightful “Moment”.

And That’s A Wrap….(pretty please, fingers crossed..)

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This December will mark one year since I finished active treatment for breast cancer. But for those who have gone down this road, you know that the icing is always a few feet away from the top of the cake. I hope that the end of the year will be only the beginning…the beginning of many Merry Christmases not spent in the shadow of fear…the beginning of conquering demons one by one to make room for happiness…the beginning of a new but different life, one that is authentic and not based on “shoulds” and “laters”.

To that end, I finally decided last week to quit my job all the way. I made a half-hearted attempt at it a month earlier, promising to work as needed, keeping one foot in the door, not burning any bridges, blah…blah…blah. Well, I can see those suckers ablaze in the distance now. And you know what? The most profound sense of peace came over me the day after I did it. It’s as if I had been walking with a splinter in my foot for years, trying to ignore it; eventually, I learned to live with the annoyance. I think I’ll look back on this someday and wonder why the hell I wasted so much time doing something I hated.

Right now, I’m adrift in a way. I’m adhering to the Chinese proverb: “Be like water.” Water doesn’t try to be what it isn’t or force itself into a certain shape. It flows where an opening exists and takes whatever journey it is meant to take. Of course, water doesn’t have bills to pay or children to appease, so there’s that…I can only afford to be water for a few months. But I’m really enjoying this time; I feel a stillness inside that has been absent for so long. I dance with my daughter in the kitchen and sit in my pajamas all day when I want to.

The last piece of my breast cancer odyssey will be complete December 1, when I get my “tats”. There is a lady here in Asheville who does areola/nipple tattooing for free for breast cancer survivors. She does this to honor her mother who died of lymphoma, and it is really a special gift.

I toyed with the idea of getting flowers and vines or some deep words of wisdom to cover the scars, but in the end, I’m a fairly traditional girl. I think that most breast cancer survivors just want their bodies to look somewhat like they did before things went wrong, kind of like a reboot. I’ll be perfectly content to have regular breasts with regular areolas and nipples. They’re not ever going to be the same as they were, but I’m grateful to have them. And they’re not too shabby…

Of course, there will be fairly frequent check-ups for the next year or so. Everyone asks me what the doctors do to see if the cancer has returned. When I answer “nothing”, people look a little uncomfortable and surprised. Unless there is metastatic disease at diagnosis, there’s really nothing to “monitor”. There are blood tests for tumor markers, but these can be elevated for other reasons, so they aren’t regularly done. As a matter of fact, my tumor marker (CA 29-9) was in the normal range with Stage 3 disease. So much for that.

So what do we look for? Mainly symptoms. The most common signs of cancer recurrence are: shortness of breath, constant headaches, unexplained weight loss, and unusual pain. Naturally, survivors are always hyper vigilant when anything out of the ordinary occurs. “Could this be it?” “Why does my back hurt?”

For now, I’m happy to be alive and in good health. I’m toying with the idea of running another half marathon in February. I’m going to start the training and just see how it goes, one day at a time. I don’t want to stress out my healing body. And if I’m being totally honest, that little voice inside is saying this is probably not a great idea just yet. I’m working hard to honor that voice when it speaks. Maybe we can negotiate…

This World Was Never Meant For One As Beautiful As You

October 5, 1987, 8:57 am.  I remember it like it was yesterday. I was hugely pregnant that month in the oppressive heat of a Miami summer. It was an exciting time. I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my first child, the Pope was visiting the city, and I was full of dreams and youthful naïveté.

Early on the morning of October 4, I was lying asleep in my waterbed. I was awakened by a sudden gush of warm water. I woke my husband and told him that the bed had sprung a leak. He took a look and smiled at me. “Why are you smiling? Do something before it gets all over the rug” I pleaded.

“There’s nothing wrong with the bed. Your water just broke.”

I looked down at my pajamas and realized that I was the source of the leak. I was in labor. Not knowing what to expect, I took a shower and waited anxiously for what would come next. In an hour or two, the contractions became uncomfortable and I timed them at five minutes apart. I thought that I was surely pretty far along in the process, so off we went to the hospital.

“One centimeter,” the nurse said matter-of-factly. “You’ve got a long way to go, honey.” The fun was just beginning. I was treated to enemas and botched IV’s, all while being starved and listening to my suite mate scream in agony. “She must be ready to deliver, huh?” I whispered to the nurse. “Nope. She’s only one centimeter dilated, just like you.”

My labor went on at a snail’s pace through the day and into the night. After my family and I had played poker, spades, monopoly and every other distraction we could think of, the decision was made to speed up the contractions with Pitocin. Or as I like to call it, Satanic torture serum.

My labor went from uncomfortable to unbearable in a matter of minutes. The anesthesia team came to top off my epidural, but the medicine wasn’t touching the pain. Every 90 seconds I was gripped by violent, mind-numbing contractions. I felt the urge to push after about 24 hours of labor, but the doctor told me not to. I was only 9 cm dilated, and they were afraid that there might not be room for the baby’s head.

At this point, the medical team was becoming concerned because the baby had been without amniotic fluid for 24 hours. The risk of infection and fetal distress was getting higher.

At hour 25, I finally lost it. I had been stoic to that point, but the pain combined with the stress and lack of sleep did me in. I let out several guttural screams and begged the doctor to make it stop. I had given it my all, but it couldn’t do it anymore. The decision was made to take the baby by C-section.

After 26 grueling hours, I held my baby boy in my arms. I was 20 years old and the reality set in that he was now my responsibility for the rest of my life. He was a beautiful, precious soul. We would have many rough patches and learning experiences along the way, but we grew up together, and we adored each other.

I never imagined that I would lose that beautiful soul one day. I believe that some people are just too special to live in the real world. It takes a toll on them, trying to fit in and do what is expected of them. In the end, they break under the strain, and it is truly our loss.

My beautiful boy would have been 27 today, and we would have had a grand celebration. He loved to have a good time and make people laugh. I wish that I could smile and laugh today, but it still hurts too much. One day I hope that this will be the happy occasion he would have wanted.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart.

THE DANCE

I’ve been doing a rumba for the last 6 years, being drawn in by the seductive rhythms and passionate low pleading of the song. Each time I’ve turned my face away, hand outstretched, yearning to find my own steps, I’ve been forcefully embraced by a silent partner and led back into the choreography which was chosen long ago.

This metaphor could describe many of the layers I’m peeling away from a life which no longer feels authentic. The process is slow…not like ripping off a bandaid, more like wiping the grime off of a window that has been dirty and nagging for years, but has been overlooked for more pressing tasks.

I graduated from chiropractic school in late 2006 and received my license to practice in 2008 after rigorous national and state exams. Since that time, I have seen probably less than 50 different patients. After some initial excitement of setting up a home office and getting all of my ducks in a row, I’ve just never been “ready” to take the plunge and start trying to attract clients. Granted, there have been some really major stumbling blocks in my life during those years, but I almost feel like I’ve used them as an excuse not to practice.

If I’m being honest, the questions began the first time I toured the chiropractic school. Before I started, I was in a graduate program to teach science, but teaching high school was not turning out to be a very attractive proposition. A classmate of mine, who was a chiropractor herself, told me about her work. It paid well, the hours were decent, and there was an opportunity to help a lot of people using my science background.

It alI sounded very promising, and I decided to check out the school.  As I peered in the technique classrooms, some of the students had others lying on benches, practicing moves that were very foreign and strange-looking to me. My stomach tightened a bit. I couldn’t really see myself there. I ignored that feeling, as I had done so many times, and feigned enthusiasm.  In no time at all, I was enrolled and large promissory notes were signed.

I soon met another skeptic with a delightfully sarcastic sense of humor. Several times each semester, we would sit in the gazebo in the middle of campus, making fun of the chiropractic zealots and questioning whether this was the semester we should drop out and find another career or transfer to a less cultist school.

Once we got about halfway through the program, leaving became less and less realistic. We were in too far, both financially and academically. (Few people realize that chiropractors take all of the same courses as med students; they just have shorter “residencies”.) I also had a pride issue at stake. My brother had bet me at the outset that I wouldn’t finish the program. I proved him wrong. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a win.

Since graduation, I’ve had numerous opportunities to go in with other doctors or rent my own space. I’ve even signed a lease and backed out of the deal. Something just keeps telling me not to commit. I love the idea of helping people and having my own space, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t love chiropractic. I find myself almost giddy when people cancel appointments. Don’t get me wrong, I find tremendous value in chiropractic, and I am an avid patient. I just don’t want to do it to others all day long.

This is probably the first time I have laid my feelings bare to such an extent, even to myself. It’s not easy to say. I have almost $300,000 in student loan debt, which is far more than my mortgage. I feel like I should suck it up and just make the money. But I can’t. Living through cancer has made it impossible to keep doing things I don’t want to do. The “shoulds” are slowly losing the power they have held over me for my entire life.

I don’t know what I”ll do from here, and that’s more than a little scary. My passion is nutrition. I would love to help people get well with lifestyle changes and natural remedies as much as possible, but I’m not sure I can deal with the public day in and day out. I need a lot of time for introspection, or I tend to get overwhelmed. Teaching might be the ultimate solution, maybe with a practice on the side.

I have a lot of good skills that I must now figure out how to weave into a cohesive fabric of occupational fulfillment while somehow still paying the bills Am I being unrealistic, asking for too much, going crazy? Maybe…probably…but I can’t continue to be an impostor in my own life. For better or worse, this is the new me. And I’m learning to like her.

The Twins Are 3 Months Old!

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It’s been about three months since my implant exchange surgery, so I thought it was time for a little update on the “girls”. How did things turn out?

First let me say, the exchange surgery was ten times easier than the tissue expander placement. I only took a week off. The recovery was a breeze. At the end of July we took a vacation, a little over a month post-op. Everything was going well until I noticed a tiny reddened place along my stitch line on the left side. The next morning it started to look infected, although still quite small.

When I returned home, I went to the plastic surgeon’s office right away, terrified that the implant might be infected. I’ve seen such horror stories. Thankfully, it was only a stitch abscess, and he told me the implant looked great. It was a case of “spitting stitches”, where the dissolvable stitch doesn’t dissolve properly and the body tries to get it out.

Well, it turned out that I had three layers of dissolvable stitches, and soon these little abscesses began popping up weekly for about a month on both sides. My body was really spitting hard. It was a bit of an annoyance, going to the doctor weekly to have stitches removed, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

When my last stitch was removed, the doctor really dug around and created a fairly obvious opening in the scar. The whole lower half of the left breast began to get warm and red in the next few days. When I told him, he wanted to put me on antibiotics. Tired of being medicated and destroying my body’s natural balance, my inner rebel kicked in, and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Remembering my delightful acupuncturist/herbalist, I hopped off the medical train and back to my belief in my body’s innate ability to heal. I scheduled a private acupuncture session and was given a poultice of Chinese herbs to put on the breast for the next several days as well as an herbal tea. It looked like mustard and made a hellacious mess, but….let’s just say that the infection was drawn out fairly quickly and the spot began to look better.

Since that treatment, I have had no more stitch abscesses. Tomorrow will be a regular follow-up visit to discuss the next step in the process, raised homemade nipples with areola tattoos or 3D nipple and areola tattoos. I’m leaning toward the real thing, although the 3D stuff is pretty amazing. I just feel like it would be a bit of a bait and switch for the audience. “Looks great…I’m just going to touch it…what the hell!” Not that the audience is that large, but I’ve gone this far, I might as well complete the deal.

Overall, so far at least, it’s been totally worth it to be able to have a feminine shape again. And it’s so nice not to have to “stuff” my bra every time I wear a form-fitting top. I know that it doesn’t bother some women, but I’ve said from the beginning that I was going to see the bright side of this journey. And trading my “lemons in a tube sock” for perky oranges rates right up there!