My proudest physical achievement

A little flushed from running and still donning my sweat-rimmed t-shirt, but I’m as happy as a clam. 

Yep. That’s it! My arm bent at a 90-degree angle. Flat on the floor. Fully able to “goal post” both arms.

Previous to a bilateral mastectomy and radiation treatment, I struck this pose without a moment’s hesitation. I’m sure that you do too. It’s simple, right? Yes, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Think of wall squats. Place your back against the wall squat down to a 90-degree sitting position and hold. Pretty simple. Until you hold. And hold. And hold. And hold. And hold… Still simple, but it’s not so easy anymore, is it? 🙂

Same here. I didn’t realize that I was unable to maneuver in this way until I went back to yoga after my treatment. Honestly, how often do we lie in this position on a regular basis? Probably not too often. In class, we were cued to lie flat on our mats and goal post our arms. My right one went right into place, but my left one remained halfway between the mat and the sky as I curiously analyzed this new found anomaly.

I quickly realized that my pectoral muscles were tight and restricting the movement. But it took me several months to realize the role that my scapula, back muscles and shoulder played as well. I was determined to regain this mobility and flexibility.

And this week, I got there.

I’m happy to be here for the obvious reason: Increased range of motion allows me freedom of movement. But I’m proud of myself for having the patience to get there. It was slow. It was tempting to force it.  But it was necessary to be patient and listen.

This wasn’t a question of fortitude. I’ve got plenty of that, but it’s usually fueled by a desire to achieve. This time, it was fueled by a desire to give a gift to my body — the gift of freedom. Freedom from pain, from restriction, from adapted movement. I refrain from thinking of or referring to my arms as my “good arm” and my “bad arm.” That’s dangerous territory.

More than a year later, my shoulder blades both glide smoothly up and down and back and forth. And my neck stretches comfortably in both directions. And my pectoral muscles flex and stretch. And I can rotate my shoulders in full, smooth circles without pinching. I didn’t push myself beyond what my body was capable of. I didn’t “power through.” There is no such thing. I diligently and consistently exercised these muscles and bones centimeter by centimeter, listening to my body on the way. Whenever I got a tingle in my arm, I backed off. Pinching nerves is serious business. Whenever I started getting a heavy feeling, I stopped. Lymphedema is no joke.

And because I worked with my body and didn’t force it, my arm is able to lie flat on the floor at a 90-degree angle. And wave hi!


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