Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reality Sets In

You know that saying that when all around you are losing their heads, it could be that you haven't fully grasped the situation?

Well, yeah, there could be some of that going on here.

Yesterday, I met with my surgeon to talk options and next steps now that I have an official breast cancer diagnosis.

He's frickin' HILARIOUS. But not exactly on purpose.  He just has no effs to give --and I like this because you don't get that kind of confidence out of thin air. Also?  He's my doctor's surgeon and I really like going to the surgeons my doctors go to. Anyway, he's confident and blunt and sarcastic--my kinda guy.

The news yesterday was that this is more of a big deal than I was expecting.  I guess I thought the lumpectomy (if I go that route) would be a lot like the biopsies. A pain, yeah, but I'd just drive myself home.

It turns out it requires general anesthesia (which traditionally makes me barf a lot) and there are a lot of decisions that have to be made around the treatment plan and the follow-up radiation and/or reconstructive surgery. I'm going into heavy research mode now to figure out a treatment plan that aligns with my "least invasive" philosophy but still honors my "I'd like to live cancer-free" philosophy. I believe in the ultimate wisdom of the body and I'm not sure nuking myself into menopause is what I want to do. (Granted, that's on the horizon anyway, but I'm not in any hurry.)

On the other hand, I have cancer in my body that needs to be addressed. And when doctors start talking about margins and "high profile" ratings on my cancer cells, that becomes more urgent.

I guess I've graduated from thinking that this is an inconvenience to thinking that this is a battle that I am preparing to win. The fact that my cancer isn't life-threatening doesn't mean it's not cancer. So, I am gathering the information. I will meet with an oncologist today or tomorrow and a plastic surgeon, in case I want to add that into the mix. I'm trying to get as much information as I can from all camps--from the "holistic sing Kumbaya and pronounce yourself healed" people to the "radical mastectomy, Big Pharma, Better Living Through Chemistry" people. I suspect my treatment plan will lie somewhere in the middle.

I can think of a lot of things to be grateful for --I have pretty decent health insurance through my University, and my professors have been amazing and loving and supportive. I like my doctors. I live in a time of incredibly sophisticated diagnostic technology, which has bought me the time to do the research and choose a path.

And of course, the outpouring of support and love and the number of people holding me and sending love and light has been a simple miracle. Thank you. If I could harness all of that, I'd be well already.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Life is Messy

So, it's breast cancer.

Which is a really big scary word for a couple of tiny cancerous cells in my left breast.

It's not life threatening.

I don't have to do chemotherapy.

It'll be a lumpectomy and maybe radiation, and I'll keep you posted. I haven't even talked to the surgeon yet since I only received the official diagnosis at 4:45 yesterday afternoon. I talked to the doctor, talked to a few of the important people who needed to know, and then I went to class as usual.

I'm honestly not worried about it.  Well, I'm a LITTLE worried about it, because it involves surgery and there is risk with every surgery.  But I'm not too worried about the Cancer part of things. This is why we have yearly screenings-- so we can catch it this early when we have all of the options in front of us and they all lead to healing.

(And speaking of that: you're getting your yearly mammogram, right? I mean, if you have breasts, please do that. It's important.)

When the doctor called with the news, he said, "You're really handling this remarkably well." And I thought, "Dude. I've been through worse."

The last 18 months of my life alone have held worse. My older child was catastrophically ill in February of last year and we had a really hard time figuring out what was going on. I can't imagine dealing with anything worse than watching my child suffer right in front of me while I was powerless to help and felt generally unsupported in seeking healing for her. I think that experience will always out-misery any other experience in my life. This is not that.

We know what this is.

It's treatable.

And it's a wake-up call. Life is short and messy. Things happen that are tragic and things happen that are beautiful beyond our dreams.

I'm redoubling my efforts to chase the latter.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not Life Threatening, Just Annoying

So, I had the stereotactic biopsies on my left breast yesterday.

It was an experience in being mindfully vulnerable. I was thinking about how most of women's healthcare requires us to be in these positions of complete exposure. Even having a baby, which is the most powerful act I can imagine, requires us to do it completely exposed and vulnerable.

Man, we ROCK. 

Seriously. We are so strong.

So, anyway, the biopsies were unpleasant and the table they use ("It's just like getting your oil changed," said the nurse) is not designed for comfort. But the staff was so amazing and caring and really thorough, and they kept me completely informed every step of the way and even brought me socks when I started shivering. 

I have a really high pain tolerance which comes in handy sometimes and yesterday was one of them. Usually, I think it's a bit of a handicap because, by the time I feel pain, I've typically done a lot of damage. But this procedure wasn't painful for me. Not my favorite thing, but really not that terrible at the time. I got to chat a little with the people working on me.

Still, it's kind of like having your breast slammed in a car door--twice in my case. The bruises are truly spectacular. (I'll spare y'all.) I was in a lot of pain by nightfall, and I couldn't get the darn incisions to stop bleeding --especially when the bag of ice I was using leaked and soaked all the gauze and steristrips. Finally, I was so miserable that I just went to bed and actually slept pretty well and I woke up in the morning pain-free and with the unmistakable conviction that everything is going to be okay.

And really, we live in the most amazing times. Even just a few years ago, they wouldn't have been able to see those spots on the mammogram. The diagnostic equipment is stunningly sensitive. The doctor put some titanium markers in my breast as a little hello to future mammographers, and to make it easier to keep track of those spots.

I should hear soon. I could hear as early as today but it's more likely by the end of the week. I'm just going on the assumption that all is good until I hear otherwise.  I mean, that's as easy as thinking the worst, right? But even worst case scenario, this is not life threatening.  Just annoying.  

Which, you know, could be the title of my autobiography: Not Life Threatening, Just Annoying.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Barb v52.0

So, you know how two weeks or so ago, I wrote about The New FULF which I assumed was my lower back? And I wrote about how sometimes we internalize stress in our bodies and it manifests as pain/illness? And I talked about how I am learning so much about neurobiology and the intersection between mind, body and spirit? And how I wanted to share what I was learning?

And then I didn't write anything for more than two weeks.

Because, um, I had a mammogram and it came back abnormal.

So, I went for the 3D follow-up. I had a couple of scans and then they looked at those and made me do a couple more and then a woman named Valencia, who, I'm not kidding, introduced herself as the "Breast Navigator," led me into a nicely appointed consultation room and the radiologist himself came to talk to me about my scans. There's definitely something there. Which could be just calcium spots, everyone was very quick to assure me --it's the most common cause.

I did not freak out. (Much.)

Then my doctor sent me to talk to a surgeon to determine what kind of biopsies I need. The surgeon looked at the scans and did an ultrasound and then walked me through worst case scenario, which is that the spots are cancer.  They are tiny, so worst case is a lumpectomy and radiation. So, I still shouldn't be freaking out because we don't know anything for sure yet, and even if it's bad news, we've caught it so early that it's highly treatable. 

But, you know, I had a little freakout anyway. (I know you're shocked.) I'd been doing this Intermittent Fasting thing and I broke my fast by having a Constant Chocolate Feasting thing. Oh, also? Bread. Dairy and gluten make me feel really pukey, so that was followed by the Persistent Feeling Terrible, with a side of Non-Productive Guilt.

And then I decided to get off my rear and stop wallowing. 

For the past few months, well, since I moved into my own place, I've been kind of treading water. Trying to stay afloat after the many devastating events of the past twelve months. I told myself I was healing and allowing myself the grace of time to come to terms with a new normal. I stepped off of my mat. I drank some wine. I played solitaire. I watched Grey's Anatomy (again.) I recognize that I chose inactivity as a way to find my way back to stillness. It was beneficial, but it came at a price. 

I'm done with that now. I have a lot to do and you know when the practice administrator hands you paperwork and asks you to check and make sure the information is correct? My paperwork said I was 52! My initial response was, "Well, that's a mistake." And then, "Oh. Oh, yeah." So, I have a lot to do and I'm 52 and I need to GET STARTED. 


I've come back from complete devastation before, so I know what I am capable of. And this is not that, even worst case scenario. So, regardless of the results of the biopsies, I'm drawing a line in the sand. Barb Version 52.0 starts today with a small yoga practice of gratitude, some clean eating, and a lot of cold clear water. (Also, a little coffee for the safety of everyone.)

And YEAH, I know. 

I'm tired, too. 

But it is the ultimate privilege of my life that I can freaking start over every day. Multiple times a day if needed. All the best things in my life have come from being knocked down and getting back up again. All of the best revelations have come during that time of uncertainty, when the road ahead is shrouded in mist and I have to respond to the calling from my own heart. That still small voice --all of the best things come from listening to it.

Easter seems like the perfect day for new beginnings borne out of old suffering. Have a blessed day, dear ones, and I will keep you posted.

--Barb, Life Navigator