A journey of the soul

Earlier today, I thought about writing a blog post and then wondered what I’d write about. After all, my second surgery was textbook. I feel great, blah, blah, blah. Why bother? Not too much to say. And then I felt a little universal smack upside the head with a voice inside that said: That’s EXACTLY why you should write! Because you have a LOT to be thankful for. Voice it!

Gratitude, always.

Always, gratitude.

My second surgery was two weeks ago today and went off without a hitch. As always, Dr. Bateman and his team under promised and over delivered. I am thrilled with the results.

And my anesthesiologist, Dr. Michael Kessler, was likewise amazing. I had zero nausea. I was awake and aware within ten minutes in the PACU. I felt fine. Perfectly fine. My throat was a little scratchy from the tube, but I got some ice cubes then some apple juice.(Seriously? I was ready for apple pie, not apple juice. I was starving!)

I talked to Dr. Bateman in the PACU. He’s the first person I saw. My first question? “What size am I?” I won’t bore you with those details. 😉 Let’s just say I’m proportionate.

Within about 2.5 hours, I was changed, home and ready for a big ol’ bowl of Noodles & Co. I made it clear to everyone at the hospital that I was displeased with the fasting rule. I honestly believe that at least half the reason that I feel so sick is precisely because they don’t let me eat. Who can take all that medication on an empty stomach and feel fine? Not me. Evidently, there are some procedures and some anesthesiologists who will allow a modified fasting plan. I’m checking into that!

All around, the experience was textbook! There’s a lot to be said for textbook. It means it was done as well as they strive to teach every reconstructive surgeon to do it. That’s saying something.

I feel there is no adequate way to thank my doctors and their staff. I will try my best by telling others how wonderful, amazing, unbelievable and caring they are so that others can have as good an experience as I’ve had.

Post op

In these two weeks since surgery, I’ve healed fast. But I started from a vastly different place to begin with. There really is no way to fairly compare the first surgery with the second.

Before the second surgery, I was chemo free, had been doing yoga daily, had a VO2 max of 40 and had regained most of my weight, strength and range of motion. Plus the extent of the involvement of muscles and tissues in the second surgery is a small fraction compared to the first.

In the second surgery, there was simply (yes, simply) removing the temporary expanders and putting in the permanent implants. Easy peasy!

Sort of.

That’s the basic concept, of course, but for Dr. Bateman it’s never a cakewalk. He takes his time, he’s serious, caring and a perfectionist. He tried all sorts of sizes and types till he got the look he was going for. He had some extra work to do on my radiated side because the tissue gets damaged, so he needed to open up some pockets and get everything even. There was also lots of work to do along my sternum to get a nice close spacing in the center. He’s a master.

I’ve had two follow-up appointments since surgery. At the first one, they let me take off the gigantic, corset-like, ill-fitting surgical bra and let me start wearing a soft, stretchy, front-closure sports bra. Big improvement. I was also taught how to begin self massage to keep the implants mobile, the skin lax and generally, everything going in the correct direction (not too far north or south).

Yesterday was my second follow up appointment. They removed the steri strips and showed me how to place the silicon strips along the incisions to begin scar healing. I’d like to explain how thin these incisions are. Take out a piece of lined notebook paper. Look closely at a single printed line in the middle of the page. And then block off a 2″ section with your fingers. That’s it! I was so happy to see that, and I’m determined to keep them thin and light till they fade away.

In addition to the silicon strips I wear during the day (think teeth whitening strips only stickier), every night I remove the strips then massage the incisions with a silica-based oil. And as I always do, I have some other tricks of the trade that I’m doing: I take turmeric, silica and vitamin E orally. The turmeric is supposed to be fantastic, but only when taken with black pepper for absorption. I’m taking Turmeric Supreme, which I got at Vitamin Cottage and contains black pepper. Then the silica and vitamin E are from Butch.

At this point I’m allowed to use any product on my skin that I know won’t irritate me. So I’ll bust out the products I used during radiation that did such a fantastic job: emu oil, tamanu oil and calendula oil.

No regerts, baby!

No regerts

I’ve seen this photo floating around Facebook for a while. It makes me laugh because at the same time that I’m agreeing with the sentiment, I’m wishing they’d called me for a quick spellcheck.

I think that having regrets is part of life. I’m striving to have fewer and fewer as my time here goes on.

In these past 14 months, it feels like I’ve been on a long journey and yet, I’ve gone nowhere. At least not anywhere physically. But I’ve been just about everywhere in my soul.

In these past 14 months, I’ve had jaw-dropping epiphanies. I’ve had mind blowing experiences. I’ve had soul-crushing disappointments. I’ve had thrills beyond compare.

Sally and I have talked a lot about what I am to learn from having had cancer. I don’t know that I’ve learned everything I am to learn, but I have learned some things. And I seek to learn, which I think is a worthwhile endeavor in itself.

Pema

I love to travel. I love drinking in new places and cramming my head with fascinating information about the culture and history of wherever I am. But if I’m the same person simply seeing new scenery, that’s not the point at all. To me, that’s running from something, hiding something, avoiding something. Travel is discovery, mostly of yourself.

River

Some things I’ve learned are these:

  • Own my shit. That means not only to be aware enough to recognize and claim my flaws/problems/issues, but don’t make them anyone else’s responsibility. The flip side of that is to not take on others’ shit. That is theirs alone to figure out.
  • Be content with what is. That does not mean that I have to settle. It means to be at peace with whatever I have to deal with. It means that to be content with what I have. And I have a lot! I have free will. I have gumption and chutzpah. I have the wherewithal, resources (financial, human and emotional) to do something about it! Whatever “it” is.
  • Look inside and be unafraid. To be contemplative, content and yet always wiling to expand and grow. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about what you look at, it’s what you see.
  • Be grateful. Once I read something that said, imagine that if you woke up tomorrow and everything you hadn’t expressed gratitude for were gone. I suddenly found myself thankful for everything from my family and friends to my washing machine and butter.
  • No regrets. Do more things today that my future self will thank me for.
  • Empathy. More on this later.

I’ve been going through a lot of stuff over these 14 months. And it was a bit overwhelming at times. But I managed, with self reliance, help from others, and a competent medical team. At my last appointment with Sally, she asked me if I’d change anything. The answer is no.

That feels so deeply satisfying, I feel it in my bones.

I’ve heard people talk about being lost when they don’t know what to do. It’s always been a word that intrigues me. Are we ever “lost?” Just because we may not know where we are at the particular moment in time doesn’t mean we’re lost. There’s always a way to find your way back even if it’s not the traditional route. That’s how I feel. There’s no way out, just through.

the person you become

Every day is a blank slate. Have you seen that viral video about the chalkboard in NYC? Watch it here. Click on the link below You’ll love it. It’s totally worth the 0:3:25.00 of time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R45HcYA8uRA

Take away the word “not” and your whole life changes!

I may not get things perfect. No. Wait. Let me correct that. I definitely don’t get things perfect. But, every day is a new day to be better. It’s really not about being perfect. It’s about being who you are. The real you. An authentic life.

I have a few things I intend to pursue in the vein of having no regerts (hee hee):

  • Continue my German education by studying on a daily basis. Either the language, the culture, the map or the history. I would love to be fluent.
  • Live in another country. Germany would be great because … see point 1.
  • Meditate.
  • Become a certified yoga instructor. I may teach it. I may use the knowledge for my own journey. I don’t know yet.

I think those are some pretty good takeaways from my illness. And the search goes on. The next point is a big one.

Empathy

A couple of days ago, I went to Wal-Mart. I usually don’t shop there because I hate the parking lot, it’s always too crowded, not enough registers open and not enough fresh and organic choices.

However, there’s a little Wal-Mart Marketplace near my house that carries only groceries and a small section of health & beauty products. I go there because they carry a large number of organic packaged foods. So I go there to get things like beans, rice and quinoa. Then I go to Vitamin Cottage for my produce and meat. Well, my little Wal-Mart closed. (I’m going somewhere with this, stick with me.)

So I went to the full, regular Wal-Mart just a little ways away. It was NOT the same. It was horrendous. I saw adults shopping in their PJs. I saw married couples fighting out loud over bagels. A kind man tapped me on the back and offered a reminder to not turn my back on my purse when I’m looking for Honey Nut Cheerios. And then there’s the food selection. Some very overweight people had carts filled with chips, soda, frozen entrees, bologna. Not a fresh or unpackaged item in the entire cart.

I so wanted to shout to the entire store: “Put back the soda. Drink water. And eat ONE thing that you didn’t have to unwrap!”

For me, it’s not about weight. It’s about health —  although, they’re undeniably related. None of that stuff in those carts was food. It’s was all food products. It was processed. And prepared. And manufactured. And modified. And it’s making us all sick!

So I found myself evaluating the situation, and I came to at least one conclusion.

I was judging those people. Harshly. I don’t know their circumstances. Maybe they don’t know that all those artificial ingredients are harmful. Maybe they can’t go home and drink water because they don’t have running water in their homes. Maybe they don’t think they can afford fresh food. Maybe they don’t have time to cook after working two jobs. Maybe they are in abusive relationships so they’re thinking, “I hope he’s not drunk when I get home,” instead of “What can I make for dinner?” The list is literally endless.

The simple truth is, I just don’t know. So I shouldn’t be judging. Maybe all she has is PJs. Or maybe she thinks she’s not worthy of trying to look better. It’s easy to write off people. It’s easy to think that I would NEVER leave my house looking like that. And I know I’m not the only one. There’s a whole internet genre of humor based on Wal-Mart shoppers.

I guess what I’m saying is this: I’ve learned something through my cancer treatment. Just because some people’s issues are out there for everyone to see doesn’t mean that we don’t all have our issues.

sock is sliding

Some people out there who are struggling have had plenty of opportunities to do good in their lives and have squandered it. Others have faced such seemingly insurmountable obstacles that it’s a wonder they get out of bed every day. Other people imagine their obstacles.

I saw the following cartoon on Facebook and I love it. Even if people are given equal opportunity, it doesn’t mean it is fair.

equality justice

Empathy is my word of 2016. It’s not the same as sympathy. It’s not pity.

No one has ever defined empathy better than Barbara Kingsolver for me:

barbara kingsolver

“Now I could go to big boy jail!”

Last Thursday, Aspen turned 18. I said to her, “You know what this means, right?” She said, “Uh-huh! Now I could go to big boy jail!” That was NOT where I was going with that question. I meant that she’ll be able to vote this year. But at least she gets that adulthood isn’t all roses. 😉

Here are some pics of her and her cake, which was a-ma-zing! I’m glad it’s finally gone so I’ll stop eating it. I realize the absurdity of my comment.

That evening, we took her out for dinner at Firenze a Tavola, gave her cards and gifts and sang happy birthday. She spent some time that afternoon with her friends. And after dinner she went to a movie with her boyfriend, who is named Zach. I won’t say too much on here because this is a blog about my boobs, not her love life, but I like the kid. He’s a wee bit older and that’s SUCH a good thing at this stage.

Schneetag!

That means snow day in German. We had one today. We got about a foot here. Zach made $130 with his friend shoveling. Not a bad day’s work for the little entrepreneurs. Plus, physical activity and time with your BFF. What could be better than that?!

Aspen also spent time with her friends then worked at Olive Garden. She’s still there. She volunteered to close.

I’ll leave you with these photos and these parting words: If I was struggling for something to talk about at the beginning, imagine how long this would be if I had a lot to say! 😉 Thanks a lot for listening.

 

 

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