Archive for the 'Life' Category

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Sorry for any typos there might be. My right arm still isn’t at its best.

So, it’s been a month since I had the mammogram that showed two lumps in my right breast. They were small, so small that three manual exams by my gyn and one previous mammogram had been unable to detect them. They caused me many symptoms all the same, and had been doing so for far longer than I like to think. I knew there was something wrong, but I had no idea it was something so serious. This was my fourth visit to the doctor for this problem.

On the day of the mammogram, the radiologist tried not to broadcast to me that she believed it was cancer. However, I’m a pretty intuitive person and I picked up on it. She told me I needed a biopsy, but that if the diagnosis was positive she assured me that the cancer appeared to be low grade, slow-growing.

The day of the mammogram was probably my most emotional day of this entire journey. I was shocked that they’d found something. I thought this visit to the doctor would be like all the rest. “The mammogram/my examination shows nothing. Your symptoms are probably due to poly cystic changes.” Instead I saw the tumors for myself and got words like “biopsy” and “low grade.” I was terrified.

I’ve had cancer scares previous to this one, so I dealt with it the same way I had before, with meditation and mindfulness. I created a sort of in-the-moment zen bubble. It’s my best coping strategy and I remain in it to this day…and will for many more. I was a mess that first day, but then managed to get my mind and emotions under control.

I’m not really all that afraid of death. (If there’s one thing an experience like this will do is put you nose-to-nose with the reality that one day you’re going to die.) Obviously, I don’t want to die, but what I really fear is leaving my daughter motherless. She’s adopted and has already lost one mother. The thought of her losing another is absolutely heartbreaking and horrifying for me. This is the fear I need to reconcile.

When the biopsy results came back positive, I wasn’t surprised. I had been hoping to dodge this, but no luck this time. I had the name of a highly recommended surgeon and I made arrangements to meet with him. I already knew that, in my case, a mastectomy of my right breast was the best choice. My radiologist had termed it, “the more definitive option,” instead of using the word “mastectomy,” but I prefer to call a spade, a spade.

Before my diagnosis, the thought of a mastectomy was appalling. After my diagnosis, it was the only thing I wanted done. It’s funny how things change when you know you have cancer inside of you. You’ll do anything to get it OUT. NOW.

My husband kept (and keeps) reassuring me that I would still be attractive after the operation, not to worry about that part of it, but my head wasn’t there. How I would look in a bikini was the last thing on my mind. MY BOOB IS TRYING TO KILL ME. GET IT OFF. That’s how I felt. If I could have had a mastectomy on the day of my diagnosis, I would have.

I couldn’t have a mastectomy right away, though. I had to wait two weeks. Which, considering, wasn’t that long.

It felt like forever.

I am 39 and don’t have a family history of any kind of cancer. Over the last few years I have greatly improved my diet and health and I’ve always been conscious of chemicals in food. I don’t know how I contracted this disease. I am told that for 75% of people who get cancer, it’s this way.

That said, in those two weeks, I not only cultivated a sitting meditation practice and became adept at maintaining the purest form of mindfulness I have ever been able to achieve, I also took a look at the toxic substances in my life and began researching ways to replace them with natural compounds. I started juicing fruits and vegetables as well.

Food is source of great concern for me now. Before I ate for enjoyment in large part, now I treat food as medicine. Nothing goes into my body that doesn’t nourish me in some fundamental way. I eat no fruit or vegetable that isn’t organic. I will probably never eat anything processed ever again, nothing with chemicals or unpronounceable compounds of any kind. I will probably never drink alcohol again. Maybe, eventually, red wine.

Basically my new rules for eating go this way: 1.) consume nothing for which there is a commercial. 2.) consume nothing that isn’t organic. 3.) consume nothing that doesn’t serve my health in a needful way.

I had already replaced some household cleansers with natural ones, but now I threw everything I wasn’t sure of. I dumped all my makeup, my face and body creams, deodorant, hair care products, everything….and replaced all of them with safer options.

I don’t know what caused this cancer, so I need to change as much about my environment as I can…so I NEVER have to go through this again.

The day of my surgery came and I was calm, floating in my little bubble of zen cool. The anesthesia made me dream, so strange. I woke in recovery thinking I was waking up in my own bed (if only)!

I’m pretty sure there’s a book in here somewhere and, one day, I’ll probably write it. This was my second attempt to start a journal of my experiences, however. The first time damaged my calm state of mindfulness big time. So, I think the book (whatever form that will take…probably fiction) will be for down the road a bit.

So, yes, it’s been about a week since my surgery and I’m doing really, really well. I’m in pain, of course, but I’m healing. We got the cancer before it made it to my lymph nodes. Obviously, that’s super awesome. I do still have a phantom boob once in a while, but that phantom boob has pain, so I’m thankful when it goes away. I do still look down occasionally and wonder where the hell my breast went. I find this kind of humorous rather than sad.

I am so, so thankful we caught this early. To think I almost didn’t ask my doctor about my symptoms that day, since I’d asked so many times before and they’d found nothing. To think I almost didn’t do that and she would never have ordered a second mammogram…, I’m very grateful.

And I have a recommendation for an apparently great reconstructive surgeon, so in six months I’ll have a new boob…and whole brand new rack, probably, and all this will be in my rearview mirror.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Out of all the words I’ve written in my life, I’d hoped to never write words like these. Life has a way of making you face your worst fears sometimes, though, so here goes: I have breast cancer. A week from today I’ll be having a mastectomy. I don’t know much more about my treatment to come. I expect I’ll need chemo. Hoping not, but it seems likely.

I am 39 with no family history of cancer. I’m still under the age for which they recommend yearly mammograms. I’m lucky we found this. And we only found it because I listened to my body. Pay attention to your intuition. TRUST YOURSELF. And get your mammogram. Every. Year.

Any good thoughts or prayers you have for me and my family as we enter this journey are appreciated. I fully intend to KICK CANCER’S ASS. I fully intend to MAKE IT THROUGH THIS and I intend to do it with a positive attitude and hope in my heart.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
A few things I believe

A dozen strong beliefs I hold:

1. I believe personal growth and development is won in the moments, in how you treat others and in the love that you show.

2. I believe it’s better to be able to bend once in a while, otherwise one day you will break.

3. I believe that being kind and having compassion are strengths, not weaknesses.

4. I believe it’s important to have tolerance for everyone, even those who are intolerant. (This one is very hard.)

5. I believe we create our own reality.

6. I believe we all change every single second. I am not the same person I was yesterday, or even two hours ago, not exactly.

7. I believe we are all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. No one else can provide this for us. We make choices about how to perceive ourselves and our lives.

8. I believe that some of the most hurtful and challenging people in my life have been my very best teachers. They have helped shaped me into the person I am.

9. I believe you can’t change the past and the future is made in the present. So it’s important to really be present.

10. I believe there is always something to learn.

11. I believe that while it’s fine to strive for “more,” it’s important to be content with what you currently have and not take it for granted.

12. I believe in keeping things simple.

Please take a few minutes to tell me something you strongly believe in the comment section.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Well, we’re back from a wonderful vacation in Florida. I feel energized and refreshed from my time near the ocean. We went to the beach every day we were there and played in the waves. The water was clear and we could see fish swimming around us and could gather shells from the sand under the waves. It was really, really nice. That’s a picture of my daughter above, feeding the seagulls.

Of course, I’m glad to be back home. I missed my furbabies a ton.
We weren’t there alone. We were visiting old family friends. Two families, in fact. One family that lives in Florida, but came from Belgium. The other family came from Belgium, originally, but actually live in Niger. The family that lives in Niger comes to Florida for three weeks of every summer. 
Altogether there were 5 kids my daughter’s age and all of them speak French. It’s a good exercise for her. She’s learning French from her father (also Belgian), but we’ve been kind of lazy about it. Her Chinese is actually better than her French at this point. I spoke a lot of French when I was there, too. So much that my brain is still a bit in “French Mode”.
We all went out one day to be dolphin paparazzi, trying to spot them wild in the ocean. We were lucky and saw many of them. At one point an entire pod swam alongside our boat. My husband jumped in and swam with them. He was close enough to touch them (but he didn’t. You should never touch a wild dolphin).  
I never fail to feel awe when I see them. I don’t even need to be in the water with them. Seeing them from the boat is enough.
Of course, I’m awed by most everything on the beach and in the ocean. Seeing schools of big fish swimming around me is impressive to this normally landlocked lady. Even the seagulls and pelicans make my heart beat faster. 
Below is one of the pictures I managed to snap of the dolphins we saw. They’re not easy to get pictures of, so I guess I’ll just have to cherish the memory in my mind. 

Now I’m home and ready to go back to work. My fingers are itchy to get back to writing. How was your week?
Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
Headed to the Beach

Cross-posted from Between Fire and Ice.

We’re headed to the beach today. Oddly enough, it will be cooler there than it is at home. After suffering through many, many days of 100+ temperatures, a slightly cooler ocean breeze will be welcome.

The ocean, also, is a very cleansing place for me. Being near the ocean always makes me feel peaceful and raises my spirits. These days, I could really use that. So, even though my body really isn’t made for beaches (bring on the sunblock, SPF 200,000!!), just being near the sea will be a good thing for me.

While it will be nice to escape the heat a little, the temperatures haven’t managed to kill off my garden. Below is a picture of just a fraction of the veggies we’ve been able to harvest.

Eggplant, zucchini, green peppers, peas, green beans, tomatoes and potatoes. They’ve all been plentiful. I had enough here to make a dinner for 8 people, most everything harvested ourselves.

There’s something really satisfying about growing your own food. This year was a learning for me and I’ll do things much differently next year, but I think I’m officially addicted. Next I need to learn how to preserve things.

So, since I’m off to the beach, a place that heals me, I want to ask YOU. Do you have a location you go to that hits the “reset” button for you, chills you out, makes you peaceful, raises your spirits? If so, tell me in the comments. I’d love to know.

Friday, May 11th, 2012

There’s only three more weeks left of school. Summer approaches. It already feels like early July here some days, so it’s not exactly sneaking up on us this year.

I have my daughter in a swim class, trying desperately to get her to learn how to swim before the hot weather is upon us. She’ll be going to camp for most of the summer (where there will be swimming) and I want her to be confident in the water (and for me not to worry about her). Her favored activity is figure skating. The water thing is not so hot with her, but we’re getting through it.

We don’t really have any special plans for this summer. We did consider Disney, but I have a health thing happening and can’t set any concrete dates at this point. It would probably be unbearably hot anyway. Florida is like a steam bath on steroids in the summer. It’s probably better to go in the fall. So we’ll wait (impatiently).

I plan to do some fishing (yes, I love fishing), much sitting by the pool, and taking the occasional day trip somewhere. Other than that, we’re playing it fast and loose.

I don’t much like the heat, so summer isn’t my favorite time of the year. I actually like winter better (snow! hot chocolate! warm, comforting fires!). I know that goes against most people’s preferences, although once in a while I’m run into someone who also prefers winter and he or she will act like we’re long lost soul mates. 🙂 It’s just not a commonly held opinion.

So, how about you? Have any interesting plans for this summer? Do you like the heat or prefer the cooler weather?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Spring has Sprung…

(cross-posted from Fire and Ice) ….and it’s that time of the year. Gardening time. As I sit writing this post, a man is out next to the house tilling up massive amounts of ground for me to plant things. I’m, erm, sort of being ambitious about my planting projects this year.

For years now I’ve been wanting to do a large, proper organic garden. I want to be able to grow food we can prepare and eat at our own table. We’ve recently moved and now I have all the planting space I need.

So…yeah, kind of ambitious. I’m planning to plant a row of raspberry plants, blackberry bushes, a strawberry patch, make a blueberry hedgerow, and grow a whole slew of vegetables. Oh, did I mention grapes, I’m going to grow those too.

And all of this will be done without pesticides or any chemicals that I, or my family, will have a chance of ingesting. I’ve done my research, but, honestly, I’m a new gardener with a limited amount of experience.

I know that in order to control for birds (berries, yo. Birds like berries) I’ll have to set up scarecrows. I also know that to control for bugs and weeds, I’ll have to lay straw beneath the plants and plant marigolds and garlic (repels bugs). The jury is out on the black weed-prevention material. People keep telling me it’s not worth it.

As usual, I didn’t wade in, I just threw myself headfirst into the deep end. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going. (Hold me, I’m scared.)

Does anyone have any good advice for me? I need all of it I can get.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Family Day

Our family celebrates an extra holiday every year (well, actually more than one), and it’s a very special one. It’s Family Day, the day when we all became a family. We did that through adoption.

Five years ago, the sweetest little 9 month old baby was placed in my arms. She’d lived her whole life in a Social Welfare Institute with a bevy of nannies in Chongqing, China. Her name was “good luck flower.” She was in shock that day, and sucking her thumb like mad. She wouldn’t eat for a while and didn’t cry. Instead of crying, after her initial shock wore off, she laughed, smiled and was incredibly adorable in general.

Most babies cry for attention, to be fed, to have their diaper changed. Our little girl had learned that charm got her the most attention in the SWI. It was a survival strategy, one she still displays today in certain circumstance. There were only two such babies in our group. The rest were hell raisers.

From the first moment I saw her picture, (that had been almost three months prior), she was mine, heart, body, and soul. To have her finally placed in my arms on the top floor of that hotel in Chongqing was like a hole being filled inside me. She’s the sunshine in my life.

I worried and worried I would get pregnant during our two year process to adopt her. If I had become pregnant, the adoption would have become invalid and I wanted to adopt rather than have a biological child. It was like I knew my little good luck flower was out there somewhere; I just needed to clear the path for her to get to us.

So every year, we mark Family Day (and Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival, too). Her presence has upped the amount of celebrations in our life in more than one way. Every year I look for a special way to mark the event. We’ve made special keepsakes at Build-a-Bear (when she was really small), visited China Town, and had Dim Sum. I have five days to figure out something special this year, but I’m thinking jewelry in a keepsake box.

Do you have any holidays or mark special days that other people don’t? If so, how do you celebrate?