Friday, September 30, 2011

I am the Great and Powerful, uh, Oz?

Two koans are working on me today.

Yesterday a friend sent me an e-mail saying that I seemed very cherry throughout this process, & was glad to see that.
I am glad also, and wordlessly beholding all the myriad, kaleidoscope ways that humans stand in fear instead of simply witnessing what is.
Well, of course it is the stories, mantras of remembrance or projection, resistance or hallucination, that we stand in fear of. The witnessing is bare, simple and clean.
Thank the forces of All that I have steam-cleaned,, power-washed and polished my gunk all along the way, so that witnessing was possible once the die rolled this way...
I really had no dialogue cued up in my head/ heart/ cells ready to mambo across my mind.
Not because I am a natural yogini.
No, because I have been elbow deep in the greasy kitchen sink of my mind for years.
(*cue the Wizard of Oz song, as the green lovelies polish the Tin Man to meet The Great and Powerful.)*

The second koan is similar.
Every time I undress and see this new formulation of breast, I stop and stare. In wonder.
It is so new and strange and beautiful in its uniqueness; the partial fill, breast-like shape that in clothes, actually, does not even draw your eye toward it, yet the long line of stitches that cross from underneath to almost two-thirds of its span.
Nippleless and what will obviously be a "great" scar (as in not Frankensteinian)
And I stare at the spare beauty of it, like a railroad track bisecting the frozen Siberian tundra, wondering how could a woman look in the mirror and bewail herself as misshapen, horrible, less than?
But I know that so many do...

I wish for us all the silence of acceptance, the cheerfulness of each sweet and normal day, and, whether scarred by surgery or just deeply kissed by Gravity, the smile in the mirror when we see that Ah!
This, then, is how it goes for me!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Scars are the stories of our survival

Ten days ago.
The surgery went well. Before taking me in, they sent me off to radiology, where they did the "bracketing" portion of the procedure. That was amazing!
An older female radiologist, who was still plainly in love with her specialty, and had the energy of your favorite aunt, was teaching a younger female radiologist how the procedure was done.
It is very delicate stuff. While I stood, stock still in front of an Xray machine, Dr. Auntie lined up my previous breast Xrays so that they were in perfect alignment...Then she had to insert two wires marking, exactly, the parameters of the DCIS, so that the skin above them could be removed during the mastectomy.
But! The skill and artistry came into play in that she had to mark them with me standing, while figuring out the drop of my breast as I would be lying down on the table!!

I don't, of course, remember a thing. I was in recovery by early afternoon, Tuesday.
Tuesday through Thursday were a blur of horrific nausea. (Think sailor on bender of cheap rum on the high seas during a storm. Yeah. Exactly!)
I do remember one of the female surgeons mentioning that she sees this a lot: women who have had mastectomies having violent reactions to the anesthesia...
Even through my haze, I immediately understood that if this is a pattern, then this is an energetic issue~~the retching reaction to losing such a culturally, personally & in-the-tribe-of-the-feminine part of our bodies...

I came home Friday the 23rd, & slept through Monday due to the pain meds.
I took myself off of them & the pain has not been that bad.
I am still very tired on many levels: healing from the surgery, detoxing the anesthesia, just resting psyically & emotionally, but I am doing really well.

Yesterday was my post-surgical check-up with the breast surgeon.
He told me that my insistance on mastectomy was a very good call, as when the sent my breast to pathology it showed that I had, not 2 1/2-3 cm. of DCIS, as the biopsy had indicated, but 5 (let me spell that out: FIVE!) cm. Since I had decided on mastectomy, it was no trouble to get clear margins.
A lumpectomy would have (he said) turned into an unprepared mastectomy.
So. Good for me.
Pathology also showed that the DCIS was in 16 out of 41 tissue samples throughout, & was a nuclear grade 3/3.
This means that the Universe was definitely intervening to keep me on the planet, because it was about to shift into its virulent mode.
But. It was caught just in time & is all gone now.

During the surgery, the plastic surgeon put in the tissue expander & did a partial fill, so I have not had to see myself recapitulate puberty from the ground up, so to speak, on the left.
Everything that post-mastectomy women say is true: the pain is not that bad, but the drain (necessary to drain off blood & lymph from the inside for the first week) is a big pain-in-the...yes!
The plastic surgeon removed that today (jubilation!!) & will take out the stitches in another week.

My friends have been so amazingly supportive & helpful on all levels. I am speechless at the amount of  love & care that I am being surrounded & sustained by.

And my dogs (all 5 of them) are cuddled around me in a we-got-your-back pack mode, at all times.

My cup runneth over.
Well. Not yet.
But let's give it a few weeks!
Ah, the miracles of medicine. Life, abundantly preserved, and cleavage.
*happy sigh*

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Half Moon Morning

In the wee, tiny hours of the morning, black as squid trolling the darkened waves, when only monks arise to the sound of bells, when the quiet holy of humanity are about their silent work: the boy rolling papers to be thrown on dewy lawns, milkmen of old, filling their carts with clinking bottles of fresh, raw milk, I am here.
In silence. Awake after what is truly only a nap of a night's sleep.

I showered as one enters the baptismal bath, the mikvah; ready to be dunked thrice and to arise alive in a new way.
I am about to enter a holy journey.
I washed each unbejeweled inch of me knowing that it will never be just this way again.

Soon I will see headlights turn in as a friend comes to take me to the hospital.
They will shine directly in my face as I sit here in my office, clicking silently to you.
That light heralding departure, arrival, transformation.

I am grateful to have been scheduled this early, that I may share this time with chants of Gregorians and Buddhists somewhere far, so near to my heart that I hum along in soul. The lift me into the bright lights and busyness of pre-operative preparations, again washing and marking, sanctifying unknowingly.

I will awaken later today reformed.
How Mysterious that I will be less, yet more whole.

Like Quasimodo, I swing at the end of the rope of this morning, deaf to what others might hear, yet in bliss at what shivers wildly through my body.
I am my own Esmeralda, also, seeing beauty with such love, at what others might turn away from.

So much is here.
This dark morning of rebirth is mine.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Doing the Queen's wave

Hi everyone. Just an update to say that I am still here...
The last two weeks I have been working, almost literally, every waking moment, since I will be going a very long stretch with no income.
So I am exhausted beyond words.
Today I spent some time with a friend, napping &, honestly, too tired to actually do the very long list of things that need to be done to prepare to go to surgery on Tuesday.

Tomorrow I will do what I can.
The day after tomorrow is surgery.

I will be back with insights & experiences near the end of next week, when I am home again.
I love you guys.
Au revoir.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We'll return after this message from our sponsor

When you get to the edge of the map, start drawing.

I left my keys somewhere. The ones to my happiness, warp speed and real-time stop motion.
Have you seen them?

Transformation requires time.
When time is not available and transformation is inevitable, leap the gap, that inner night with the lightening storm of the gods.

Name one thing. Anything.
Now realize you have no idea.

We meet ourselves constantly.
Every form, person, idea and memory.
They are not reflections. They are you.
Just try it.

Cellular reproduction never has to fight to have great make-up sex.

The sound of the waves in the distance and the howling of the hurricane: lullaby.
Shhh. Hear it?

I was wondering how to get your attention.
I was. Wondering. How. To get your

This day will not be your last.
But it is someone's last and someone's first.
Celebrate the arrival on both planes.

I meant every word I said.
Even when I spoke in tongues.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wax on, wax off

Just a bit o' waxing philosophical...
I had a great conversation with a friend last night. She said she really loved reading my blog; she loved my perspective and my writing style, but...
(You knew I was going there, didn't you?)
But reading it was really triggering her fears.
I have actually had this feedback from a few friends; that it is graphic for them, that it makes them feel vulnerable & uncomfortable at times, that they feel the essential human fears very clearly when they come here.

I asked her what fears she was finding herself in contact with.
The fear of death.
The fear of cancer.
The fear of disfigurement

Some of the bedrock.
So, as I love to do (and she does, also) we explored each idea in a long & rich conversation.
At the end of the day there is no formula for integrating these basic human experiences, but the main thing is to stay in relationship with these boogey-men. Don't run from the room, don't give in to pat answers, don't be afraid to feel what you feel.
We both talked about the illusion that we all live in that "everything is ok". That sounds fine, even desirable at first blush, but the idea itself has, often, some trembly inner trepidation that no, indeed, everything is not ok...
That the world is painful and challenging in myriad ways, that the unknown happens all the time, but most of the time "the unknown" happens on TV or over the water cooler or on an internet posting.
As long as (fill in your blank) my health is fine/ the kids are ok/ I still have my job or house or spouse, then I can face anything.

That is where we accidentally have kissed the flypaper in a big, old passionate way.
Because Life will have its life-like way with us, and one of our constructs will be shaken or crumble without warning. When that happens we come face to face with the truth.

This is impermanent, unknown and powerful, this life.
And everything about this life is wild and precious, sometimes intimidating, often exhilerating...But it's not me.
The mind's first panicky response is that this must be a lie.
Even if it true, then I cannot stand in the face of this.
If my things of beauty or people of beauty are taken away then how can I go on?
Then the mind collapses in a quivering, helpless, sobbling heap.

That's a good thing if we can just stay with it.

Here's what I have noticed. That everything we call emotion has a sensation.
We know this~~ the knot in the stomach, the heart on fire, the numb head, the legs like jello~~but then we try to think our way out of that. Even after we know that we cannot, the decades being the merciful and repetitive teachers that they are.
We try to understand, to talk ourselves out of it, to rationalize, to categorize, while we take medicines or substances or yummy treats to make the sensations abate.
Never going to happen. They keep bringing us home to the body no matter how hard we have our hands pressed to our ears, chanting La-La-La I can't hear you!!
So. Just feel what you feel. Don't label it or try to understand it. Just feel it.
And then...notice that there is probably a stream of words happening in your mind, even unintended.
Notice, but don't invest. Let them become the background traffic noise while you attend to sensation..

Sometimes amazing things arise.
Maybe I can't think of Skye's mastectomy in detail because it makes me feel shaky in my I felt when my kitten BooBoo was run over...but they told me not to look, and not to cry because BooBoo was in Heavan now..and then mommy took me inside and daddy went outside & BooBoo was gone when I went out front later...and I could never talk about it...
Shaky diaphragm feeling + story + never being allowed to feel what I felt = a trigger for trauma later.

We all have a trunkload of these experiences,personal & intimate & largely hidden. The concept of feeling them only feels scary because we haven't had the resources to feel them before.
But you have the resources now.

If my journey is uncomfortable for you, I would encourage you to stay engaged with the mystery of that discomfort. Therein lies the key to freedom.

I have the car completely waxed with Philosophic.
Buff it to shine, sweetness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Past the treeline and still climbing

I have a photograph of myself, taken 14 years ago, sitting on a small, butt sized ledge, at the top of the Continental Divide. My hiking buddy took the picture from above, looking down at me (because there was no way he was sneaking down onto that squeaky ledge) and I am radiant. Sweaty & smiling, as on top of the world as one can get for about 2000 miles, I think. And below my dangling feet was a whole lot of empty space before more ledges, empty space & mountain.
Delicious. The air is thin & pure.
I love it up there.

Today feels like the top of those Colorado mountains.
All the logistical movement is taking place; last meeting with the breast surgeon, ultrasound of the affected breast, declining the (completely unneeded) class on the lymphatic system post surgery, & putting my name in the hat for a study on yoga & breast cancer survivors. (what the heck?!)

I may not look back on this chapter as a "favorite" snapshot in my life later, but the views are certainly unusual.
And I don't mind looking down.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The sacrament is every disaster and joy

A Sunday that, while still hot, has a touch of actual Fall in the air, has me contemplative.
The surgery is set for Tuesday September 20.
I have two weeks to make as much hay as possible while the sun of full mobility is still shining on me.

Walking down the street today, the correlation was made clear, like the silent swoop of a large bird, the movement drawing my inner eye up.
The surgeries that I had in '97 made sure that the pre-cancerous situation then did not run rampant in my body, like the Texas wildfires that are burning even now...To be safe, alive & whole I gave up parts of my body. And never thought twice about it.
Cancer dance redux, I will also give up part of my body, an offering on the altar of Wholeness.
A larger part, a more obvious part, with more steps to it.
But it is the same dynamic.
It makes me wonder what, in the multidimensional scheme of things, I am designing/ participating in?
I don't know that I will ever have a cognitive answer for that query, and that is fine.

Then later in the evening, I had the image of the surgeons working on me, cauterizing, lifting, cauterizing, lifting tissue. My tissue. My breast.
Inch by mammary inch, lifting, lifting my breast away from my body.
And as they lift, a blinding white-gold light shining forth like the light of a million suns.
At first a beam, then a band of brilliance, then a sheath of radiance, then, as they lift the breast completely off,
the room being filled with a pulsing starshine that no human eye could bear, unshielded.
But they will place the breast on a tray, "Get this to pathology, after labelling..."
They will clean, dab, cauterize again & do the rest of their surgical gifts for me.
Nothing to see here, move along, move along...
But the Light is me.
Is for me.
Is showing me...something that I will live into.
This is the way of it here. Always more than one can ever conceive of is recvealing itself.
And it looks like just another day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Not the golden trinkets!!!

Today was my meeting with the plastic surgeon and, oddly enough, I was more agitated driving to his office than I was to the breast surgeon's. It was just that much closer to home plate, for one, and I was a bit nervous: what if he was a pompous ass? What if, somehow, he was going to hamstring the smoothness of this whole experience, as it has been gliding along, so far??!

Not to fear. Again, a consummate professional with nothing to prove, no ego to reenforce.
So down to biz.
After going over the case history, we talked about options for reconstruction.
I already knew I was not opting for a lat flap (where they take a piece of your latissimus dorsi~~the big wing-like back muscle on bodybuilders~~to create a shelf at the breast & move your own belly fat up to become a breast) or a tram flap (same idea, only using a portion of an abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominus) because, doing the work that I do, I cannot offer up any of my core strength in trade for a breast.

FYI, though, women: I had a friend who had a tram flap years ago, & because they "fill" it with your own tissue, it is completely natural looking and feeling. A perfect "breast"; none of the firm-to-hardness of an implant.

They do another kind of tissue transfer now, also, where they take no muscle for a shelf, they just move your own belly fat up & shape it as a breast.
But, it is a much longer surgery & recovery time, and the possibility of tissue failure, which means the transferred blood vessels don't find their home in the new neighborhood and the tissue dies, resulting in additional surgeries.

An implant is just fine for me.

So, I was measured & told how the procedure would transpire:
After the mastectomy. my plastic surgeon will put a tissue expander under my chest wall muscle (pectoralis major) & then put in the drains to remove fluid (blood and lymph) that will be building up in the area after the surgery, but cannot be allowed to stay, because infection might arise.
Women always say that the drains are the most tedious part of the whole thing.
Which, in the scheme of things, is not too bad, really!

The drain will be taken out a week later (hence the tedium!) & weekly I will go in to the plastic surgeon's office to have increasing amounts of saline put in the expander until we reach my size.
Or, actually..."almost" my size, as without moving into the realm of Hollywood/Vegas implants, they don't make them the size I have been walking around as. Gratitude to Mama Nature.
My mother would have fallen over on her bed laughing at that one!
So, after many trips in, gradually inflating to evenness, we schedule a second surgery (I swear I just heard Bullwinkle moan!!) to remove the expander, exchange it for the actual implant, & *sounds of angelic trumpets* do a slight reduction & a lift on the other side so they will match as much as possible.

Cue Nina Simone.

I asked him about time off of work, & when I explained what I do, he shook his head & looked down, doing the body-use math in his head.
Meeting my eyes he said "I don't want you working on anybody for four weeks. Then you can go half time for two weeks. before a full schedule again. You cannot chance any bleeding or inappropriate internal scarring in order to have the best result possible."
Which was about what I was figuring.
Except by then I'll be back in for surgery #2.

There will be an intermission while our beautiful dancing girls and adult libations bring a smile to your face.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

All in all, this is fabulous, I do recognize...
And, if you were wondering about my title tonight, the funniest part of the whole thing is the nurse who was having me sign sheaves of pre-surgical papers, reminded me that I could not wear any jewelery into surgery.
But. But.
These tiny, almost infintessimal gold wires in the curl of the thick, inner part of my cartilage in two places on my left ear?
My body heals very quickly if I take piercings out, and (with a slightly can-I-have-the-car-keys wheedle) if I can just leave those two? And, well, my solid gold belly button ring, also???
She reminded me that the reason they have that rule is that if something should happen during surgery and they had to drop the paddles on me to bring me back...Any metal in my body would cause the electricity to arc...
Creating, shall we just say, a Green Mile moment in the O.R.

And then I started laughing uproariously.
Because I have more whiny resistance to losing all my body jewelery than my breast.

It takes all kinds, Mr Barnum...