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!

 

The Winds of Change Are Blowing…

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Those of you who have followed me for any length of time know that I have been on the fence about many things in my life….ad nauseum. Today, I took one small, brave step toward the future, a future that I hope will bring a greater sense of peace and authenticity in my life, something that has been missing for far too long.

I finished chiropractic school in Fall of 2006. I accepted a position in the local hospital laboratory while I was waiting to my national board exams, as I already had an undergraduate degree in that field. Shortly after I took the job, I found out that I was pregnant with my youngest child, who is now 6. I was thrilled! Oh well, change of plans. I decided to work in the lab for 2 years or so and save money to open a practice.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. Over the next several years, my life began to unravel. In 2007, my husband was injured at work, and we ended up losing our home and having to declare bankruptcy. The following Spring, we lost our oldest son unexpectedly, four days after we celebrated the birth of our daughter. Needless to say, I stayed at my job.

I despised working in the lab. It was a regulatory job filled with nit-picking rules and mind-numbing details. I equated myself to a well-paid hall monitor. I flirted with the idea of doing something with the chiropractic degree several times, but I could never quite find the strength and energy to make the change. And saving money was a pipe dream with three kids at home. Two years dragged into five.

So many times I promised myself that I would quit suffocating my dreams and find my purpose in life, but I lied. I plodded along, one foot in front of the other, the good responsible girl to the end. Meanwhile, my body rebelled against the repressed anger and resignation, and I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in March of 2013. I fully believe that my job was a contributing factor in my disease.

To most people, my job would seem like a cakewalk. I only work 3 days per week, 8:30-5. I don’t do strenuous manual labor or have to deal with extreme weather conditions. I don’t work most weekends or holidays. Just saying these things to myself has kept me there for over 7 years. “What kind of spoiled brat leaves a job like that?” But I have slowly died inside over those years, and part of me has given up hope of ever finding what I’m meant to offer this world.

I know you’re probably thinking that I have finally taken a chiropractic job. Nope. I have no prospects, no grand plans. I simply walked into my boss’ office this afternoon and told her that I need to make some changes at the end of September. I will no longer be doing my 3 day gig. I can’t..do…it..anymore. I offered to stay on in a PRN, as-needed capacity, where I can say “yes” or “no” on any given day and take a break whenever it suits me, for a week, or six.

I have known this woman off and on for nearly 20 years. She started out working in the lab like me. We have been friends. although more distant lately. What was her response? Did she immediately act surprised, the disappointment showing on her face? No. Our conversation lasted all of five minutes. She simply said “Ok. I’ll take a look at it and let you know.” So, I suppose she has to do her thing and I have to do mine.

I guess I’m crazy, because we certainly can’t afford to live comfortably without my income. There will no doubt be sacrifices until I line something else up. But I need this time. I need to sit back and take stock of the last 18 months of treatment and regroup, play in the garden, and enjoy the last vestiges of summer warmth. Many days, I’m not even sure that I really want to be a chiropractor anymore. All I know is that it’s time to start listening to that inner voice and heed the lessons that breast cancer taught me. Life is too short to be unhappy.

My Garden Runneth Over

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My Garden Bounty

As a cancer survivor, healthy eating has become paramount to my survival. All the research points to the fact that a diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables is the key to preventing not only cancer, but a myriad of other diseases. Look around you at the people walking down the street and it will become crystal clear that you are what you eat. See a few Big Macs out there?

I’ve always been fairly conscientious about what I put in my mouth, but I do have a sweet tooth. I can remember watching “The Biggest Loser” a few years ago with my ice cream bowl on my lap. Ironic, huh? I wasn’t seriously overweight, but I was enjoying a form of denial. After all, I did cut up fresh fruit to put on top of my dessert. 

Shortly after that. I started running and got serious about my diet. I was fairly strict during the week…no dessert and no alcohol. I ate lean meat and tried to cut back on my carb consumption. But I never tried to live with complete deprivation because I believe that this leads to failure. I allowed myself to indulge that sweet tooth on Saturdays, usually in the form of some decadent ice cream shop creation involving lots of chocolate and the word “fantasy”. 

So there I was, proud as punch about my healthy new lifestyle, and I got cancer anyway. I was in shock at the seeming unfairness of it all. What about all these yahoos smoking and drinking while double-fisting Krispy Kreme doughnuts?! They’ll probably live forever! 

My diagnosis made me realize a couple of things. First, cancer is a sneaky, relentless disease that has many causes. Even if you do everything just right, you aren’t immune. Second, you can always take steps to give yourself a little more insurance. I was eating better than most, but I was still nowhere near the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which is still inadequate.

Since my ordeal, I have made a concerted effort to scour vegan and vegetarian blogs, books, and other resources to find new recipes. I still eat meat, but I’ve cut back, and I try not to use any products from large commercial farms. I also limit dairy, but cheese is a tough thing to give up! 

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Squash Casserole with Garden Cukes and Tomatoes

This year, I raised an organic garden, although it has been very challenging lately with all the rain. Asheville is trying to become a suburb of Seattle, I think. I’ve had yellow squash and phallic cucumbers running out my ears. I made my own pickles, and a vegan blackberry cobbler. Right now, I have green beans, watermelon, and pumpkins trying to take off. The tomatoes finally lost the battle to the weather, so I’ll be pulling them out this weekend. 

Overall, the garden has been a success, and not only from a food standpoint. There’s something soul sustaining about digging in the dirt. At the end of a really crappy day, I can’t help but feel better standing among my veggies.  

I feel pretty good about my choices most of the time. I’ve come up with a supplement regimen that works. I’m getting more creative and healthier in the kitchen. That mental piece is still a work in progress, but I’m trying to figure out my path to happiness and fulfillment. The only thing I can ask when I look back on my life is that I did everything I could to change the outcome and survive. The rest is out of my hands.

Weekly Photo Challenge: ZIGZAG

My children think I’m crazy sometimes, but they’ve learned to embrace it and even appreciate pieces of my offbeat personality when they catch themselves acting like Mom. This photo was taken on one of those eye-rolling occasions. 

We had been enjoying a sunny afternoon stroll downtown and had just returned to the parking garage. As I started to get in the car, this scene caught my eye on the parking level just above us. My teenage daughter was feeling particularly salty that day and insisted that we go home. I had to risk her wrath when she realized we were going up instead of down toward the exit. I think it was worth it:)

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Summer Lovin’ Take Two

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Ahhh summer, how I love you. I pine for you on cold, dreary December days. I rejoice upon your return and bask in your embrace, unashamed. But your flirtation is brief and intense, like a butterfly landing momentarily on a bloom. Soon you will depart once again, and I will cling to your memory, as it is all that you have left me.