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BACK TO THE GYM

BACK TO THE GYM

“Full arm side plank with opposite arm extensions using a weight to curl under your body and then fully extend your arm and back!” Kathy yelled happily like she was telling all of us in the sweaty smelly studio that the Frosty Freeze soft serve ice cream shop just opened. I am destroying her official description of the last exercise of our sixty-minute class, but at this point who cares. I watched her and I watched the class watching her as I stood in my safe corner in the front right of the studio, closest to the exit in case I had to do the walk of shame (aka the door out). I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes and I had to get a tissue to wipe them. This final exercise of the morning that my dear Kathy was enthusiastically showing us had me stumped for the first time in the class this early Saturday morning, my first class back after three weeks of gentle walks and easy movement. Was a modification even possible? So far, I had been using the treadmill for the cardio portion rather than the spin bikes, walking at a fast pace, using the incline at an eight or nine even attempting a slight, albeit old person shuffling, jog. For the never-ending weight portions, I used the embarrassing, but satisfying, two and three pound weights. Actually not embarrassing at all, I just had a fucking double mastectomy three weeks ago, survived early caught cancer twice, live cautiously knowing I have the BRCH 2 gene, I will, with bad ass pride, use whatever damn weights I want. There is no shame and I am so happy to be back in normal world.

Jumping plié squats with a weight? Not sure about my new post construction ta-tas, so I stand squat them rather then jump squat. Oh, Alayne, give one a try. Jump. Oh yeah, my new early stage boobs don’t move! I forgot! No problem, jump away! Burpees? Easy. Standing versions. Plank jacks? Mmmm let’s try some full arm planks on my knees. Yep. Check. Standing split squats, bicep curls, back lunges with side twists with a weight, front rows, (wait, I think that was my modification) all a big checkmark. Sit ups? I decided to try it with a bosu, (you know that weird half circle ball that some crazy ass fitness fanatic created for balance) for added support. Once down though, I forgot a few key issues, those pesky double eight inch incisions on my back for one, but also getting up from the floor without rolling over to get up, ix-nay on the sit ups at least for my first time back.

My first time back semi hiding in the corner, modifying almost everything was a whopping success if you ask me. First off there is so much truth to the phrase, “80% of success is showing up.” As I have written about on more than one occasion, going to the gym is so much more than a fit body. It is psychological satisfaction, emotional stability, heart happiness, soul confidence, a fit mind. The way I write about going to the gym may make some people who don’t know me think that I am a gym rat, an over achieving fitness freak.

The irony is I hardly ever seriously exercised seven years ago. Sure I toyed with exercise in my lifetime, I met my former husband and my present partner at the gym in my twenties at the first step aerobic and low impact classes. I played with yoga going to Kripalu in Lenox, Mass in my early thirties (before they had their “luxury” annex rooms and dorming it was the main option). I occasionally jogged, but my exercise was mainly walking and bike riding for pleasure.

I am not a gym rat. I was not a lover of physical exercise because how I grew up was you were either music and arts OR sports. So we went to museums, concerts, I played a musical instrument and physical fitness was for the other. What I am trying to say is that fitness was not instilled in my cellular makeup as a child except for my gymnastic classes and hula hooping. The way fitness showed up in my life was drudgery and a necessary evil. It was always surrounded with a negative connotation, like a chore so as a result I had a lot of cynicism when it came to gyms and over achieving workouts. Until I reconnected with my present partner who is eighteen years my senior. He is a fitness lover, loves to walk, run, bike ride, go to the gym. I realized quickly that if I was going to be fully present with this man in this relationship, I had better get some wind back in my body. So I began with the goal of a 5k and for the most part for the past six years have stayed with fitness.

I am completely convinced that fitness even more than diet is the reason I have been able to heal, repair and bounce back after three weeks physically and mentally. I like to say that we never know what shit will be coming at us, but it is highly likely that the toxicity we are surrounded with in our foods, in our environment and in our own self talk will result in some life changing physical ailment at some point.

I can’t stress enough how important exercise and a fitness routine is knowing what I know now. I also believe that what I eat is 80% of my body shape. So even though fitness has played a huge role in my going in and coming out of surgery, my food choices have and continue to play a role in the way my body shows up in the reflection staring back at me. I also know that life is life and that I have to live so exercise can never be compromised, but what I eat surely can as I continue to seesaw between my hard fast no sugar rules and jumping into my favorite pint of Susannah’s Ice cream from Sweet Berry Farm.

As I reread this, I realize that it has the potential of sounding a little preachy and that is not really my intent. My intent is to remind myself that the gym is a sacred privilege. I am reminded of an intense conversation I had with my beloved and very missed brother, Michael. Lying in his hospital bed in his apartment not able to move because cancer had taken over his bones and he was physically stranded at twenty four, he just wished for one more bike ride. He longed for one more opportunity to go outside and smell the earth, to see the sun, and smell our mutual love of summer honeysuckle as he looked at me feeling so screwed out of life. Obviously my health and cancer free world at thirty watching him lose his young life oddly wasn’t necessarily enough motivation to propel me into a strict fitness routine, goodness knows why, but it was a definite seed. It took me another fifteen years before I really got serious and fortunately it was well before I had a life altering diagnosis. For him, even though he had a strong fitness routine, it didn’t spare him, fitness didn’t even help his life quality, but his cancer was completely different and it wasn’t caught early. Maybe my father and my brother had something to do with mine being caught early, maybe they are having too much fun together and they are not ready for me to join them yet. I’ll take the extended stay on the earth though because frankly I am having too much fun trying to figure my shit out and I am not ready to give in. They had no choice so my life, my early diagnosis and my return to the gym gets to honor them and I feel so grateful to have at least one more opportunity.



My beautiful very fit very missed pre cancer brother, Michael and me with crazy Kathy before my double m (when I still had to wear a fitness bra, sorry lulu lemon)

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THREE WEEKS TODAY

THREE WEEKS TODAY

“Have you ever tried on a 26 triple a training bra and worn it around the office for a few hours?” I asked Dr. M, (my plastic surgeon, also referred to previously as Dr. Hottie and Dr. Dreamboat) “You know, so you can feel what it’s like and understand it from an empathetic perspective?” I said this with a straight face; I wasn’t kidding. After all, how can a man unless he is a man who likes to dress like a woman for pleasure, understand the feeling of wearing a bra that is like six sizes too small, but can’t remove it because this new bra is actually her upper body now.

“No, I haven’t,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, not quite sure what to do with this patient standing in front of him who teeters on the border of provocateur and jokester. “Though I understand what you are going through,” he said with a little too much confidence if you ask me. “No you don’t,” I replied very much assuredly. We chuckled and I realized right then and there that since I would be seeing him for the next six months at every other week, if not every week, I would be buying him this as one of my parting gifts when my new breasts were finalized.

There is no way that any man could ever know what it feels like to be wearing a bra that is too tight 24/7 for three weeks straight. Let me also add that in addition to the feeling of the ever tightening shrink wrap, there is also the feeling that the hooks on the back of the bra have become bent and are perpetually poking into my upper back.

I am not complaining. This is not complaining. As a matter of fact, I actually have enjoyed the entire process of this bizarre world I have found myself in. I am happy to be alive, I am happy that it has only been three weeks and I feel this good. I am ecstatic that I have used this life trauma as an excuse to write more and to share my truths and vulnerabilities that would make author Brene Brown’s heart sing. I actually spooned with my partner today for the first time in three weeks. I was able to lie down on my side for more than fifteen minutes. This is progress.

As I was recapping my doctor’s appointment, my beloved friend Morgan reminded me that my breasts were never as big as I may have thought and that actually they were quite small. “Well compared to you, I can understand why you would say this,” I volleyed back because she has those yummy boobs that all boobalicious women complain about. We laughed. “No really Alayne, your boobs are smaller then you think.” Joykill. Who knew in all of this tit discussion I was smaller than I thought. This got me thinking about size and expectations of size as I progress down the tissue expander path these next upcoming months. When I asked the Doctor when I would be expecting the start of the filling to begin, he said, “Alayne, you said you didn’t want to be that big,” repeating back my comments from our initial meeting that seemed like eons ago.

“Well I don’t want to be that big, but I don’t want to look like a seventh grader with breasts that are just starting to bud like I do now,” I replied. “Well, okay then,” he said with a knowing smirk. “We’ll start next week.”

Goodie, something to look forward to.

As an added bonus, Dr. M. gave me the green light to exercise yesterday so I had an extra bounce in my step all day. I promptly called my beloved Kathy Martin (aka trainer I adore) to see if she had room in her 8:00am class the following day. Here’s the thing; though, I fully realize that this first workout will likely not be the full hour heart and body pumping workout I have grown to love, I must be patient as I don’t want any set backs because I decided to foolishly push myself to try a pushup or a burpee. I just want to feel the normalcy of my life again. I want to see my workout peeps sweating and complaining because they don’t have this upper body issue going on as a comparison. I want to be surrounded with healthy people. I want to feel my endorphins again from physical movement instead of Oxy. (By the way I am now 2 days free of Oxy and yesterday only took two Motrins all day). I want to have the excuse to put on my workout clothes and my sneakers and look in the mirror at my new upper body with the knowing feeling that this too shall pass. I want to drive up to the Newport Bellevue Ave. Pulse parking lot filled with Mercedes and Audis and Range Rovers and feel the pace of my beloved and privileged life I have designed as my world and feel normal again. I want to laugh aloud when I try to modify the absurd exercises that have been a part of my regular life, knowing that before I know it, this past few months will have seemed like a dream and not the nightmare that I had first anticipated.

My photographer friend, Julie had suggested we continue onward with photos of my body three weeks in and I completed my afternoon with a photo shoot. Like I said previously about trying on clothes as idiotic, a nude photo shoot three weeks after surgery is probably not the most body affirming activity. However, I really saw the need for these photos because my doctor had no pictures three weeks out. I really feel like if he did have a monthly photo from beginning through a year, so many women would feel much more at ease going into this. Besides this because I really don’t know if he will even want these photos, I want them. I want to remember what my “lovely bad ass” self accomplished. (My beautiful breast doctor, Dr. W called me this).

I had the fortune of seeing a patient of Dr. M’s who was eight months ahead of me and I think that was one of the best things I could have done. As many of us control freakettes know, it is often the not knowing that is the hardest during experiences like this. The idea of trust is a great road to follow but after you read all of the potential things that can go wrong, (seriously about forty pages of what can go wrong) trust is not necessarily your go to emotion.

So I stood in Julie’s beautiful photo studio surrounded by the kinds of lights Ava Gardener probably had in her photo shoots in the forties, bare, stripped, and vulnerable. As I stood face on, daring the camera to show anything other than courage and bravery, I realized how this moment for me was in some ways a closure to my first fifty two years. I wish I could put the photo shoot on this writing because I am so proud of myself and how far I have come as a woman who is always on a personal quest to just figure her shit out.

Aren’t we all? No matter what types of darts and swords are flying at us, no matter where we are at in our glory and our darkness, the work is never done. Sometimes we get a bullseye, sometimes we miss the mark, but it all ok in the end and if it is not ok, it is not the end. I am not sure who said this quote, but at this moment in my delightful existence, I am confident that this part of my life is the end and that end is a great excuse to celebrate its teachings and start something new with its lessons.

So new for me is tomorrow. Getting back on the horse and getting to the gym, the place that made this experience the so far knock on wood success it has been. For sure if my body hadn’t been as fit as it was going in, there is not a chance that my attitude about my world on this new day would be the ten that it is. Of course after tomorrow I may not be able to walk after my class, so this writing may be all bullshit, easy to talk about the gym with the starry eyes from the couch. The only negative is that my bounce back means that the three weeks of help will surely come to an end now. But this is one of those rare welcomed filled with pleasure negatives that I am happy to say good bye to. Humbled, happy and grateful and cardinal landed smack in front of me on my fence at the exact time I was looking out the window. Life does not get better than that.

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DAY 20

DAY 20

20 DAYS sounds so much longer then TWO WEEKS and I feel almost silly complaining about my sleep problems last night. I woke up about five times last night, my breasts screaming at me to take notice. I realized I had forgotten to take this miracle drug that Dr. Plastic Surgeon (aka Dr. Hottie) had prescribed for me to help with nerve pain. What a difference without it. I shuffled my sorry self into the kitchen to take one of these bad ass pills and climbed back into my bed hoping that the 12:30am clock would not turn into 3:30am without a wink. I miss sleeping on my side; DAY 20 and I am still sleeping on my back slightly propped up. My breasts each feel like two round super hard baseballs so imagine lying face down on them. Kind of like that playground teeter totter thing we used to play on (back when kids played outside).

Lying on my side is weird because it feels like these new and temporary additions will certainly move and look deformed. The good doctor has assured me this will not happen, but it is more of a feeling then a reality so I avoid it anyway. With all of these thoughts circling my headspace, it is no wonder I am waking up. For those of you out there who have real squishy breasts no matter the size, enjoy their pliability and how they move right along with you. Worship them as a matter of fact, because when that piece of your upper body becomes something different, you really miss the natural movement. Michael, (my partner, not my son because that would be weird) keeps reminding me that this is only temporary and this is pure truth. Since I don’t want to wake him at the wee hours, he can’t remind me of this so I have to call upon my inner strength to remind myself.

What has helped me hands down in falling back to sleep are podcasts, thanks to Michael who introduced them to me about six years ago. (Oxy helps too which for an addictive personality like myself, I am trying not to head to the prescription bottle for the quick fix it provides. I’m also guessing that I don’t have an unlimited supply waiting in the wings. When I went to pick up the prescription after my surgery, I stood there like Nurse Jackie thinking that the pharmacist was sizing up my prescription’s authenticity, ready to give him a flash of my upper body just in case there was any question. Christ, these days you can’t even buy Sudafed without an ID) I was relieved when he didn’t ask me any further questions.

Podcasts have been a helpful tool to help distract my busy mind from turning into a 3:00am spin cycle. What is it with that 3am wakeup call? I have heard that it is usually a strong time to pay attention. Both the best and worst ideas have spun into overdrive at that witching hour called 3:00am and at this point, I just want to have my brain in pretty mode not to mention I want to fucking sleep. Usually reading helps me get right back to sleep, but when my man is next to me, I feel bad putting the light on so podcasts have been a welcome and easy sleep aid. I have quite a few, but am running low as for the past three weeks I have been waking up at least twice per night and have listened to most of them at least two times. Podcasts are great because first off they are free. Secondly, they can be super interesting and when I listen to them, I picture myself sitting around a radio before television was invented and it makes me feel like I am doing something that is not related to technology despite that the podcasts require my phone, I know I am a walking contradiction at times.

As I listen to them, I think, “I could do this.” One more over achieving item to add to my ever growing list of great ideas. Write a book, do a podcast, open a store, non stop creativity that requires a lot of action and even though I am holed up in my house, I still need to realize that I need to slow down, Alayne, I am only twenty days in. WTF. Besides my upper body is starting to feel like it is slowly being shrink wrapped as my stitches and tissue are healing inside and outside and the feeling is bizarre. Powerful and bizarre. Kind of like the way wonder woman must feel as she spins around and she changes from her street clothes to her wonder woman power cape. Trying to see the best of this.

As life and serendipity weave in and out of my life when I am paying attention, two women in two days mentioned the podcast I tried out last night. It grabbed my attention because it was a delicious interview with Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. She rarely gives interviews and if I am ever feeling down, I just read one of her poems and I am instantly uplifted so listening to her was even sweeter. The podcast is called On Being with Krista Tippett, her interview was with Mary Oliver, but there are many more interviews with many stellar well known and unknown people.

This is the poem that introduced me to Queen Mary O and is still one of my favorites.

Why I Wake Early. by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who made the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and the crotchety —

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light –

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

Most of her writings are so human and filled with nature and outdoor beauty. They calm me like a guided meditation and enrich my mind and soul. She is 80 and still writing and I hope I can say that.

My other favorite podcasts are Crimetown, S-Town, Missing Richard Simmons, The Recovery Show, Intelligent Medicine, The Writers Almanac , WITH GARRISON KEILLOR and Meditation Oasis. I love all of them equally. They all make me feel better and are a way better option then getting up and being up then being super tired for the rest of the day. I don’t want to get into this pattern especially as I am limited in my activities right now.

I have been walking a lot and actually tried shopping for some new clothes today a bit. This was a totally stupid idea. The light in the changing room accented every weird new bump and discoloration on my breasts. Trying to slip clothes on and off over my head was idiotic and I had to have my friend come in to the dressing room to help me. Size small tops actually fit, but then I remembered, I don’t have boobs right now so I have not a clue what size top I will be wearing and it is not like I am shopping for ten dollar t shirts. Why am I doing this to myself? So now I am back on the couch getting ready for a nap and putting on my trusty podcasts to give me the nap I need and deserve.

Who knows, maybe I will try to do my own podcasts and start interviewing a collection of superwomen out there. Any volunteers?


Podcasts that make me feel stimulated, smarter and happier.

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THE HELP, WHAT TO SAY, WHAT NOT TO SAY (AND SHERYL SANDBERG)

THE HELP, WHAT TO SAY, WHAT NOT TO SAY (AND SHERYL SANDBERG)

I have caught Sheryl Sandberg on a variety of news shows being interviewed for her new book called PLAN B. She was speaking about the process of grieving over the loss of her beloved husband two years ago. I never read her first book that she had written prior to her husband’s death called, LEAN IN. I had heard it was a bit controversial, but that is not why I didn’t read it; I didn’t read it because I “lean in” my own way and I was really not interested in hearing about the head of FACEBOOK telling me how to be a better woman in the workplace. As I write this, I realize that it is not fair to make a judgment on a book, especially a woman’s book without reading it. Perhaps in my spare time which I have a lot of these days, I will read both so I can see her take before tragedy and then afterwards.

In the interview on CBS THIS MORNING this past Sunday, she reflected on a conversation she had with her Rabbi. She said something like this to him, half joking, half serious, “Rabbi, this is not what I was thinking when I was writing the book, Lean In.” The brilliant Rabbi’s response? “Lean in to the suck. This is going to suck, but lean in.”

Sheryl Sandberg was at the precipice of leaning in. The grief was layered as she realized she had her own grief, her children’s grief, her husband’s family and friends’ grief. But what I got out of the brief interview more than this was her comments on the silence when she went back to work, the lack of acknowledgement of the very bright elephant in the room, her husband’s young and sudden death and the way her peers at work unintentionally skirted around the tragedy.

I get this and have spoken about this before in many of my writings. This is why I started carrying Emily Mcdowell cards, so often people don’t know what to say so they avoid it all together or they say something they think is meaningful. There is no malice here, no ill intent for sure; we have just not been programmed to deal with healthy communication around traumatic events. Like Sheryl said, (I feel like we are on a first name basis now, though she was not available to friend on Facebook, just follow, kind of ironic), mentioning Dave is not a forced reminder, she will never run the risk of not being reminded as she is reminded every day. He was her life partner. They loved each other.

For me, my area is the same. Good meaning people use language or lack there of to navigate how to talk to me post mastectomy. I am an open book. I am someone who is willing to have the uncomfortable conversations, who is willing to coach the dialogue to help people who have had the fortune of healthy lives and lives without the tragedies. I am willing to share the way my breasts look (within reason of course) with women who feel it helps them understand and ultimately say and do the right thing. Women have done this for me and I have found it extremely beneficial in this post surgery as I heal and understand the tweaks and twinges and scars that are a very normal part of healing. I am not freaked out. I am not afraid. I am human. I am woman, here me roar, but also hear me curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out.

Here are some of the most common phrases that people have said to me and I have been reminded each time that I have said these very phrases. Again, with no ill intent as people want to say meaningful and helpful things to help me feel better, I put in parenthesis what emotion it conjures up. For anyone reading this, if you have found a phrase you have said, this is not to make anyone feel bad at all, it is just a means to get a better conversation going so we can be helpful and both parties can feel great at the exchange.

“You look amazing.” (this is one of those lines that someone who really doesn’t feel very beautiful or amazing isn’t sure what to do with, sure most people who are standing and dressed after surgery or tragedy will look amazing relative to our perception of what we think we should look like.)

“You get to get new tits and you are so lucky, you should ask for the tummy tuck too, I hear you get that as a bonus.” (This is in the top 3 Family Feud game show, all I have to say is I didn’t want new tits, I preferred my own and I like my flat stomach that I pay thousands of dollars for in beach boot camps to stay scarless, thank you.)

“I heard you were sick. What can I do?” (I am not sick, my cancer was caught early, I am recovering, I was never sick, hence the good fortune of regular mammograms)

“What do you need, do you need anything?” (I don’t know what I need, I am too tired to have to think about this or even ask for this.)

“You are a rockstar, you got this.” (This creates a need to mimimize my pain to try to live up to some external sense of power I am supposed to be having)

“God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.” (How do you know this?)

“Whatever you need, I am here for you.” (Then be there when I can summon the intense courage it takes a woman who is used to doing everything for herself to ask for help. If you can’t really be ‘here,’ then please please please do not offer help ever. This is the worst thing you can do as a friend, empty help to make yourself feel like you are at least offering. Super yucky.)

The last one is complete silence and absence if you are or have been close to the person. This is one of those awkward moments that is hard to fix later on. Reach out as soon as you realize you have been remiss.

Truth be told, I have been guilty of every single one of these in my precancer life, I remember getting into a huge fight with my dying brother who could barely take a shower alone at 24 and yelling at him, “Well at least die with dignity!” OMG I shudder, but I also forgive myself as it wasn’t like I had any experience of losing a sibling. I realized that it was a stupid insensitive thing to say. I corrected myself as we discussed the bullshit one liners we are all guilty of.

To me here are some of the best things you can do depending on the level of relationship you have with the person on the other end.

Easiest and best no matter how far away you are from knowing the person is to send a card or a text that simply says, “thinking of you.” I cherish every card and every text.

If you want to send something, remember that mostly everything, flowers, food, helping with house chores comes the first week and it is gloriously helpful. For the recipient this is the easiest week to ask for help because it is so obvious we need it, but the third week, it is less obvious. I still can’t really change my sheets, fold my clothes or reach to a shelf to put stuff away, but because I look “so amazing” and have found myself out and about, I feel guilty asking for some of these things. This is my own shit. I know people will continue to help me and I have come along way to know I can ask, so I do. But it does not come easy.

A really great thing to do is “I am giving you space because I know you are all set for the first few weeks but I would like to come over in three or four weeks in the morning to bring you some lunch and do some chick things I know you need. What day, the week of_______ is good for you? I can come for a few hours.” This can be a text or a phone call. Super kind and effective and most importantly helpful.

If you want to send flowers or a plant, try to do it after the first few weeks to space out the love. It is really awesome to get flowers after the newness of the post surgery starts to wane. Don’t get me wrong, flowers and kind gifts are always appreciated. They are so loving and bright and create a happiness I can’t explain at anytime.

Let’s say, you have run into someone who you heard about, but haven’t sent a card yet, this is a nice thing to say. “ Alayne, (if their name is Alayne) heard you had a double mastectomy and are recovering, just wanted you to know I am thinking about you.” A follow up card is cool too if you feel like it that says, “It was great to see you, I am thinking (or praying) about you and your recovery.”

Acknowledging the pain, the trauma, the experience in whatever way is the best way to help someone. I can’t stress this enough. Otherwise, it is that awkward energy where I have felt I want to scream from the rooftop, “BY THE WAY, I JUST HAD A DOUBLE MASTECTOMY AND MY UPPERBODY FEELS LIKE IT BELONGS TO SOME ALIEN.”

If you have someone coordinating your post care and I highly recommend asking for this help, seriously this was the best thing I did for myself, let people bring food, let people come over and fold clothes, make your bed or whatever things you need to feel calm and less anxious. I know for me, if my house is in disarray, I really feel out of sorts. All help has been great, but as a control freak about the way my house looks, I have to be willing to let dishes get put in places they don’t go, beds made in ways I may not make them, clothes folded in ways I may not normally fold them etc and all of the other bullshit items in our lives we place importance on that in the long run miss the mark if we forget to acknowledge the action behind them.

If you can give a few hours of your time to sit with someone who is recovering without having to ask lots of questions about their needs, offer help. If you can make a dinner or give someone a gift card to order dinner or lunch out, this is another great thing a few weeks out.

I think the worst thing any of us can do is to not acknowledge the trauma thinking it is going to somehow remind someone of something that is impossible to ignore anyway. I remember attending Shiva for a client of mine who had tragically lost her son. She was happy to see me and said something so profound, “Alayne, in times of struggle it is not the people who show up you most remember, but the ones who don’t.” There was so much wisdom to this. I am so grateful for the gracious help I have been privileged to have received, the people who have shown up with physical presence, and emotional love, the intangible prayers and thoughts, and the messages from total strangers who have enjoyed reading my writings and have been helped by them. I don’t focus on the ones that haven’t shown up, but their absence is impossible to miss. I hope that this is helpful for those people who don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. There is always time to say something no matter how far away from the time.

This is in no way an admonishment of anything or anyone at all. I must remind myself how much of this list I have done prior to my cancer. This is merely trying to engage the conversation so that it serves as information when the time comes so our choices of language and actions can be of better service.

Besides the random acts of love and kindness, while I am busy making lists, I thought it would be helpful to make a list of the things that made the last two weeks go super smooth. This list is in no specific order.

  • Make sure you have button down short sleeve and long sleeve shirts, 100% cotton is the best. These will save you in both day to day movement and sleeping and fuck the size, buy super big. You will not want anything clinging to you. A few nice cotton sweaters to wear over this to “dress up” the t shirt if you go out and want to camoflauge the bulging drains. My friends bought some as gifts for me at Khols and Target.
  • There will be a picture of a pink strap at the end of this that a sister breast cancer survivor gave me for when I showered. I couldn’t have showered as well without it. Thank you Ally.
  • Two items were recommended to me that if I had had would have been useful but YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND THE MONEY. Remember breast cancer is BIG BUSINESS.
  1. A camisole made specifically with inside pockets to hold the drains. ($80), but apparently insurance covers some of this. Useful if you have to get back to work, I suppose, but like all of those super cute infant clothes we get at showers, it is the onesie with the snaps our babies stay in for most of the first few months.
  2. A lazy boy recliner. This would have been really helpful but not so much that you need to buy one (I almost did and glad I didn’t)
  • Giving a dear friend complete control over scheduled visits and caring time, dinners, etc and a key to your house in case the door is locked and she needs to get in. This was the best. I had someone scheduled for at least three hour care visits for the first week. THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR SOMEONE.
  • Even better when those someones came over, they went on auto female pilot folding, cleaning, straightening intuitively taking care of my homespace without a question.
  • Creating a drop off space that doesn’t require you having to answer a door or having to visit if you are too tired where someone can just leave something for you in a place that you can get to when you are up to it. This was a great way to save sanity.
  • Say the truth on your cell phone voice mail message and an auto email reply so you get a free pass on taking care of yourself.
  • The self induced pressure to write thank you notes is something to be prepared for. I wrote about twenty as soon as I could muster up the strength, but getting a box of thank you cards from a friend was a great help as I realized that I had run out when I went to write them. I don’t think most people expect a thank you note a minute after receiving them, but my grandmother’s voice was hovering and I couldn’t rest until I wrote them.
  • On that note, as gifts of dinners and flowers and books start to flow, write down in one area who they are from, you will not remember and I am sure I have forgotten to send a few. I started saving envelopes with return addresses so I wouldn’t have to look up the addresses when it came time to send the cards, this was pretty helpful too.

Holy crap I feel like I am writing a woman’s guide to getting cancer. Yikes.



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STARTING WEEK THREE

STARTING WEEK THREE

I am not sure what I anticipated the beginning of WEEK THREE to feel like, to be like, but if I had to rate it on a scale of 1–10, 10 being amazing, 1 being totally not amazing, I would rate it an 8 and a 3. Two scores because the mental aspect of this WEEK AHEAD is pure power. I actually feel mentally unstoppable. I love the way my upper body reminds me of this power and the strength it has bestowed on my ability to move through my day.

I feel physically like I probably should be feeling, alive, for one, but also healing and improving. The incisions are already turning into scars and the scars are looking much better than I thought they would at this time. The 3 score is more the weird unexpected physical stuff going on in the insides of my chest and upper back. The morning showers help for sure, much better than popping a nasty Motrin as soon as I roll out of bed. This was my good Doctor’s advice at my follow up visit a week after my surgery. I have been following it ever since and it has been a really soothing outcome. So the 3 is more about the unexpected. That may seem like a weird word to use, unexpected since this whole upheaval of my upperbody is mostly unexpected. Afterall if one hasn’t been through this experience before, isn’t everything unexpected? What I mean is that at WEEK THREE, my limitations of reaching, not having a structure to work my upper body with stretching exercises, “shouldn’t I be doing physical therapy or yoga or stretching by now,” I asked Dr. Dreamboat. (my aunt’s words, not mine) “Not right now,” he replied, “you do what you need to, not what you want to, and you don’t need to exercise right now.” Clearly the good doctor does not know that I exercise for my mental state so there is a need, because my mental state is definitely challenged as I am in a holding pattern. For those of you who know me, alayne is not synonymous with holding patterns. Don’t get me wrong, I am walking everyday, trying to stay as active as I can, both mentally and physically, but obviously there are huge limitations.

In addition to my desire to get on with my life, I am still in need of help to perform basic tasks like making my bed, moving the laundry from washer to dryer, reaching for dishes that are above head level and many others basic home tasks. I am not complaining at all; I am just simply listing the realities of this serious surgery. I guess because I felt so much better than I thought right out of the gate, that I didn’t think some of these physical feelings arriving at WEEK THREE would be as potent. If I could go to my son’s rugby game less than one week after getting out of the hospital…. Drats, am I needing a managing expectations check in again? Come on Alayne, just because I am calling this writing STARTING WEEK THREE, am I forgetting that this also means completing WEEK TWO? Why does WEEK THREE sound so much further away than WEEK TWO.

Time to call in my friend, Patience.

Here are some of the weird tweaks that I really noticed last night at bedtime. Cramping, actually more like a charlie horse, under my left arm on the left side of my breast, (perfectly normal, my Dr. assured me because he had to cut some muscle or something, easy for him to say) Tingly sensations in my left pinky and ring finger, (this just happened this morning so not sure if this is normal) A tightness in my back that feels like I have a extra small workout bra on and can’t wait until I get home to take it off. (I have actually reached under my breasts to adjust this realizing that there is nothing to adjust, it is that strong of a feeling). It also feels like the front of my body is walking around with a mammogram unit attached to my front. I am getting so used to this feeling by now that I am almost disappointed I will no longer be needing mammograms. (If there is a woman reading this who doesn’t know what this feels like and is over forty, if I have taught you anything get your ass to the mammogram machine. You don’t have to dies from breast cancer.)

The sharp electrical jolt kind of feelings in my breasts are always a bit startling. I just described them as fireworks going off in my chest. This apparently happens because of the nerves healing. So knowing this, makes me super grateful when I feel the fiery tangy jolt because this means that everything is going as planned. Because my left breast went through prior surgery and radiation, this is the one that has more intensity. This is the one that has more swelling, I won’t go into detail because for women who haven’t had this experience, it will likely freak you out, but for me going through it, it is not freaking me out at all. This has probably been the thing that has surprised me the most. I am not freaked out. I am actually enjoying the process even though I give the pain a 3, it is more discomfort than pain.

I have mentioned in past writings about the joyous cards and gifts I have received during this ordeal. Many cards and calls have come from people I would expect and I cherish them, there have also been many that have come from people who I either don’t know and have just found me because of my writings, or old friends who have reached out. A few people come to mind right off the bat, (there are so many more too).

I heard from my childhood friend I grew up with in Fall River, Mass from kindergarten to fourth grade before moving to Jamestown, RI. She still lives around here and is bringing lunch next week for a visit. I haven’t seen her in about twenty years. She was my neighbor down the street who had the built in pool and I hung out with her endlessly. Her very Irish Catholic traditional family, Sunday dinners, no one goes upstairs and no sleepovers, no swearing, Dad worked as a fireman, mom was a homemaker, were the gauge for normalcy in my young life. She was the youngest in her family with two older brothers. Her parents always seemed much older to me; why wouldn’t they, my parents were unusually young. Her perception of my parents was that they were so cool and hip and I suppose relative to her parents, there was a lot of truth to this. I am really looking forward to being in her company and revisiting our young lives. She is really the only witness I have to this time in my life besides family as my brother would have been the only other and he of course left this planet.

I heard from an old friend who I was good friends with in high school. It turns out she had a single mastectomy and lung cancer and is recovering and struggling, but fortunately is going to come for a visit because I still can’t drive. The amount of cancer in our little Rhode Island state is appalling. Was it all of the pre OSHA manufacturing that has gone on in our towns? I can’t get sucked into this rabbit hole, I must stay surrounded by happy thinking and not go to the energy depleting worry meter.

Another dear friend who I worked with when I worked with Aveda in the late eighties and early nineties has sent me a few cards. Yesterday I received one acknowledging my writing as helpful and positive. Probably one of the nicest cards I have received since I started this travel down the yellow brick road (see I still refuse to say the J word) and I have received many beautiful thoughtful writings that I cherish. The handwritten card said the following:

“Happy Healing Alayne! My friends and I are really enjoying your blog. It is de-mystifying a process that many hope never to face. I love you and send you healing vibes!! Love Rose.”

My healing, my vibes have come from all of this writing. I have found that this outlet of my heart, my depths have been an integral part of this speedy recovery. The fact that some of it has helped other people has been an added bonus. This was never the intention, when I wrote my first piece, THE MAGNIFYING MIRROR. My intention was to use the writing to express and squeeze out every morsel of emotion on paper so that it could move out, move on and move.

I have been writing since I was in third grade, the piles of writing in journals, in notebooks, on my computer and in a manila folder marked “alayne’s writing” have never had any place to land. When my partner turned me on to the MEDIUM site, it was like I could breathe. I finally had a place to place my words. The idea that people have responded is really rewarding, but I have to keep my over achieving personality in check. I have to write, as I say in my tagline, “because it feels good,” not because I have people to satisfy. It is a fine line and a balancing act as I have at times found myself reading stats on how many people have read a certain piece. This is when washing machine brain can go into overdrive and I have to quickly re read my personal writing mission, I WRITE BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD. period. Or maybe I can give myself a COMMA or a SEMICOLON or an AND. I write because it feels good AND because it could help someone else feel good too.

Ahh love it when I can find the grey between the black and white rules I set up for myself. This is progress.



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SHOPPING FOR UNDERWEAR

SHOPPING FOR UNDERWEAR

The push up bras with the padding ready for a Sunday afternoon football game made like the designers stuffed overnight maxi pads into each cup stared or rather glared at me, almost daring me to reach for one. I wouldn’t have been able to reach for one even if I had wanted to, you know that range of motion thing I keep speaking about.

As I made my way over to the cotton bikini underwear I have been buying for well over twenty years from Victoria Secret, I asked a non descript salesperson for help. From women who have some booty and some hips out there, like a brand of jeans, once we find the perfect style of underwear, they become a permanent friend in our drawers (seriously, no pun intended). The sales girl asked me what style I wore. There used to be three choices, high leg brief, bikini and hip hugger bikini I think. Now there are about a dozen styles and for a moment I forgot what I wore. I reached down into my lulu lemons thinking I would ask the sales woman to check the style I had on and thought twice. One reason for my hesitation was it is just plain weird to ask a total stranger to put her hands down the back of your pants to find a tag. The second reason were those pesky drains I was about to have removed. Even though I am an open book about all of this madness, I forget that the average Jane is likely not familiar nor chooses to become familiar with the image of liquid filled grenades attached to my body that she would have to navigate around. Mmm. Who knew about all of these choices clearly made for asses my lower body has never seen even in my earliest of years. One pair was called “cheeky” something or other, no thank you, I don’t need underwear to ride up my ass on purpose, it does that anyway.

For kicks here is the link, please don’t buy anything as I don’t want it to seem that I am promoting this silliness we are surrounded with to make us think that our beautiful booties are supposed to even try to fit into these. Warning: Only go to the link if you are feeling loving and secure about your body when you look in the mirror. If you are PMS, perimenopausal, menopausal, pregnant, if it is a full moon, high tide, mercury in retrograde, just got into a fight with your mate because he or she told you the truth when you asked that loaded question, ”Do these make me look fat?” (Do women still do this? Please say no.) or if you are two weeks out from a double mastectomy and reconstruction, oh wait a minute that’s me, what the fuck am I doing buying underwear at Victoria Secret, shouldn’t I be home high on oxy feeling sorry for myself? If any of these descriptors apply, step away from the link, If you still want to torture yourself, click away. https://www.victoriassecret.com/panties/styles-special

My friend and I decided to do a little shopping before we headed over to the plastic surgeon’s office to, at last, get the final set of drains taken out of my body. Amidst the sexual encounter promoting items I found myself surrounded with, I found a sales person that I had to ask to help me find the cotton underwear I love. Saleswoman. That is a vintage title these days. A dying breed that went out when the last Cherry and Webb and Filenes store closed. They should be called ordertakers because they are all just professional standers waiting for their day to come to an end. I miss good old fashioned saleswomen who understood how to engage and start conversations so that I would end up buying way more than I intended to.

The “sales” girl showed me where my size was (medium these days, thank you Kathy Martin) which were in a low drawer I couldn’t really bend down to. I asked her if she could pull them out for me as she let me know “five for twenty eight dollars.” I guess this is what is considered sales help these days because as she handed me my new bikinis, she told me to tell the cashier to mention “Jackie helped you.” Really? Is this help? Ok, I’ll bite. As I made my way past the plethora of underwear that I will never wear again, (because I don’t fucking want to) no matter how many burpees and squats I continue to do, past the bras that will never grace or rather suffocate my upper body because the second act of my upper body involves a firm lift that will require none of those silly contraptions, (thank you Dr. Michaud and oh yeah, cancer), I was faced with pictures of eighteen year old come hither models at every turn. Once again realizing that I was in yet another store that I have not only outgrown because of my age, but also because they fail to take notice of the statistics that over three hundred thousand women will be diagnosed with the disease this year and forty thousand women will still die from it. Yes there are still women dying from breast cancer, apparently second to lung cancer. Let’s see, it’s an underwear store selling underwear as catalysts for sexual escapades, though they don’t say this aloud, they don’t have to. Cleavage, glossy lips, heavy eye liner, eight foot legs on six foot models scream “Wear this and yes, you will have the sex you dream about.” I would not be tempted by the absurdity of the images because you and I know damn well know by now that besides the obvious of not even knowing what size I would be even if I wanted to wear one, I wouldn’t even be able to hook the fucking bra. I can barely get a t shirt over my head without a struggle.

I must admit I was tempted to ask for a bra fitting just for kicks to see what kind of reaction the last day of my drains might invoke from an unsuspecting Victoria Secret sales person. I decided that this would not be very kind not to mention that it may create a barfing situation which would be very bad. The funny thing about sexual desire after a seven hour upper body surgery is that now my body is split into two parts. The untouchable (aka top half) and the bottom half that doesn’t seem to know that the top half had a major operation. What I am saying is that the two don’t seem to be talking to each other anymore and the bottom half is very much alive and alert, (there must be a God afterall for all of you non believers.) This just proves that all of this underwear has nothing to do with my very happy and awake endorphins, this feeling of desire on my bottom half anyway is all my doing. At least something is positive from all this cancer, haven’t lost my juju. Of course sex with just the lower half of a woman’s body does not lead to a very spontaneous roll in the sack. Similar to the idea of anyone besides your child coming anywhere near your breasts when you are nursing makes most women’s blood curdle, just the thought of an accidental push on my upper body let alone any sexual touching creates a fear that halts any potential of an afternoon romp.

As I made my way over to the salesperson, handing her my underwear, waiting for her to ask me who if anyone helped me, I answered the desired response thinking that real help would have at least been to walk the purchase over to the counter for me, but who cares. Victoria Secret is not marketing to me and whether I shop their brick and mortar stores or online, I am still only going to buy the bikini underwear I have loved since I was thirty.

My friend on the other hand, who needs bras that Victoria Secret doesn’t make, was shopping across the way at SOMA. I have never been into a SOMA, but it seemed to be their answer to the disappointed fifty somethings who went to VS and realized that their low lying breasts didn’t stand a chance. They are trying to get us grown up super chicks to “look beyond sexy, because we are smarter than that. We are about self love.” ( mmmm all I see is underwear, maybe the self loving sex toys are in the back room? Because seriously who will be having the rocking VS sex with this underwear? Oh I thought that is what they meant by self love) Their quality seemed much better, but as I looked around, most of their choices seemed frumpy. I tried to find something to spark me, but they just tried to hard too convince me that I could feel as VS as VS. Of course we fifty somethings know by now that tight asses, flat bellies and firm breasts come with workouts and removing carbs, wine and sugar from our menus. Sure we can buy the bras that wrap our bodies like a Scarlet Ohara corset from Gone With the Wind, but when we take them off (and actually are able to breathe again,) what stares back at us is the truth. For me though at least what stares back at me these days is saluting and standing to attention new breasts that don’t need their flipping bras anyway.


Thanks SOMA for the old college try anyway of letting me know how sexy my self respect is. I agree, but with a double mastectomy and new reconstruction the wild romp can at least be a goal, can’t it? Too early too young to give up the ship yet. Not this super chick with at least half of a awake body.

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TWO WEEKS

TWO WEEKS

I may actually miss my last set of drains that are on schedule to be removed today. What? Did she just say she may miss the attachments that she has been known to describe as snakes attached to her back hanging firmly by their teeth? Well of course, not really. The release of these plastic grenades and tubes from my body, from having to empty the disgusting body fluids three times per day and record it on a dated graph followed by calling it in the next day is surely a welcomed freedom. The bright side of these attachments, though and the reason I somewhat jokingly say I will miss them is how much they keep my pace slow and my awareness firmly planted in the present as much as I am capable of anyway.

The speed of which I walk and climb into bed, the way I shower and dress, the ability to perform simple tasks around my home are all literally tethered to these drains. I am a bit concerned that without their constant reminders, I may forget that I need to continue to take it slow so that the healing of my upper body can continue at the rate it has been going.

After this double writing, I am going to begin consciously weaving more life without cancer stories into my writing because even I am getting sick of the monotony of this cancer experience. I spoke with my doctor and have my final check up with her on Tuesday to review the pathology report and it is all good news. No more cancer, no cancer in the lymph nodes, no cancer in the right breast and the only cancer was the one spot we found that led me down this mastectomy path. This is what getting regular checkups and follow ups has done for me, caught early and addressed. BAM.

Despite my cynicism of the medical world I have found myself in, the goodness of it has kept me alive. I still firmly believe we must take better responsibility for our own health care and continue to advocate by making our decisions based on information that we have taken the time to explore. This takes a level of confidence in our abilities to challenge doctors who can be intimidating (not mine) as they often roll their eyes (not mine) when we start asking questions that are often founded because of something we saw on the internet or something a friend experienced. But I still think that a little information is a great jumping off point to at least have the necessary conversations that diagnosis requires before jumping on to the surgical table. I still think we are our own best advocates.

As I wait for my ride, I am so happy I have a group of friends I can count on during this trial. They show up. They make time. I only hope that I can provide this grace if the need ever arises in their world. I have a almost daily conversations with my Aunt Kiley and my old friend from sixth grade, Melissa. These morning moments ground me and I cherish them. Melissa said to me this morning, “Alayne, you are so optimistic,” as we have spent years of talking about our daily grind hashing out our vulnerabilities with each other under the umbrella of safety and pure unconditional love. Automatically I replied, “What is the alternative?” I mean going pessimistic is not helpful to healing and growth, two areas I thrive on. Not to say I don’t get down, I most certainly do and as I have said in previous writings the darkness is part of the process. But we all have shit coming at us, it is what we do with the shit that sets our course. I prefer my course to be as happy and joyful as I can direct. Surely I can’t always direct it, sometimes the route has other plans that I am unaware or unprepared for, but I have always found that when I stay trusting and open to the vast possibilities, I am never let down. My cup runneth over and there is no better place to notice it then in times of trial and hardships. This is when we get to see the glory of the work we have done when times are not rough and bumpy. The work never stops, just when I think I can coast for a while, is when complacency can move in and complacency is. very different than calmness. Calmness is what I do with the storm, complacency is ignoring it. The seeds I plant in my life are service, love and kindness and when they come back to me in my hours of need, I am so grateful.

The amazing energy of cancer is the openness of my heart to goodness. The raw thread between me and that core connection to spirit, religious or not, when I stand on the ledge that faces my own mortality, I am closer to the divine source. I can feel it. It is like no other feeling other than the feeling of losing my brother to cancer twenty two years ago and delivering my son two years afterwards. Perhaps it is the teetering on the edge of darkness and light, the feeling of letting go and trusting in universal outcome that brings an awareness to my soul like no other.

Today I threw away my last bunch of flowers I received over the past few weeks and I thought to myself, this is the last hurrah. Help is not needed as much, the cards and the dinners will wind down and I need to get back to the business of self care. And like a beautiful reminder that someone is always available, that though the frequency and urgency of people visiting or helping at the level I needed them this past two weeks is changing, a really lovely bouquet of flowers showed up out of nowhere reminding me of how lucky I am to have kindness within reach at all times. Angels are always awaiting in the wings. I cherish this feeling, this feeling of noticing and paying attention to these nuggets of kindness that are omnipresent during these times.

I have run into people who didn’t know about what has been going on with me. They had seen me right before surgery and felt bad that they went on to discuss talking about something not related to the struggles that were ahead, but now behind me. I am not sure how to ease their self imposed embarrassment other than to write how welcome normal non cancer conversation was at a time where it had been 24/7 cancer, my own doing by my writing, but also because I find once you have cancer, people struggle with conversation other than cancer. Clearly I even struggle with it as my writings have shown this. This is perfectly normal human behavior. Why wouldn’t it be, to avoid the conversation would be to turn a blind eye when clearly cancer and surviving it is the elephant in the room.

For sure I remember when my young precious brother at twenty four was diagnosed how he really struggled at normal conversation from all of his guy friends. They, of course at twenty four, would have no idea how to navigate how to talk to their dear friend, but I really understand how the usual easy dialogue changes into awkward and sometimes not knowing what to say dialogue.

Cancer and life facing illness no matter how early it is caught, pushes the envelope towards every person and their own mortality. I think it activates the mortality question in their personal paradigms they face in the odds of their own possibilities that could follow.

I sat on my front porch last evening after going to a very successful therapy appointment. I got a ride home from my dear friend, Morgan, who I asked to drop me off about six blocks from my home because I needed to walk and get some fresh air. I stopped in at one of my favorite stores, Jackie’s Loft, on the way to buy myself some new earrings and a splashy happy scarf and visited with the owner for a bit as we talked about life and illness and earrings. Kind of normal. I made my way back to my house, slowly, tenderly, as after all it has only been two weeks and as great as I feel, I must remember this is not a sprint, but a joyous exploration of my new friend, Patience. I am not overdoing it. I have stood, as many of us have, on the precipice of many mountains and ravines. I have faced the climbs, the tethering and scaling up and down the rocks trying to decide if I want to continue north, east, west or make my own path. I have learned despite two super “we caught it early” diagnosis’ and the psychological yo-yoing of a genetic mutation, the questions of am I taking it too seriously, not seriously enough, am I over or underreacting that rise are what everyone deals with. This is normal. What I know definitively is that scares and successes like this in my young life remind me that my quality of life is way more important to me than quantity of life. This is not a death wish, I love my life, I love my son, my family and my friends and my partner and my employees, my clients and my business. There is nothing like the joys I receive from positive energy and awareness of how lucky how I am that brings me closer to a divine source, no matter what name any one of us chooses to give it.

I like this part of myself, the ability to see goodness. It doesn’t always come easy because when people I expect goodness from let me down, it weighs heavy on my heart. But for the most part, the goodness and kindness always prevail and I am so lucky and happy when I can focus on this. Happiness always leads the way to strength and better composition in my core. This is beauty. This is healing. WOW. I stand in awe and bow to its divine power for sure.



Earrings + scarf from Jackies and flowers that came.

I forgot to mention this awesome heart rock I found on Thursday at 3rd beach to add to my collection. Heart rocks find me and I never find one when I am looking.

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DAY TWELVE

DAY TWELVE

After needing some help to remove the t shirt I managed to get on over my head yesterday, I looked hard at my upper body in the mirror last night. The bathroom lights were strong and defining and the reflection was not one I was familiar with. The strange thing about the image staring back at me is that I had a deep feeling of power come over me instead of horror or sadness like maybe I had originally thought the emotions would be. This surprised me and the surprise of it gave me a strength hard to verbalize.

I stood head on intently looking at the transformation of my chest, my nipples, my breasts, my back. I still have the remnants of the markings where they measured for the incisions, still have the vestiges of the bright golden antibacterial liquid they anointed me with during the surgery. I think a doctor mentioned the only way to get it off is with nail polish remover, but the thought of insulting my skin with that smelly toxin in addition to what I have already put my body through offends me.

I paused. I stared. I glared. I embraced. For someone who thought she wouldn’t be able to look at herself without crying, I was surprised at how much power I felt at the body staring back. This goes way beyond boobs. I didn’t even really notice them which would have been the area I thought I’d be obsessing about, as much as I looked at the area surrounding them, my back, my sides, under my arms and then my breasts. I really looked at my décolleté, the area above my breasts that shows much more in a bathing suit. The lumps and bumps and discolorations made me think of my garden blooming. As I write that, the funny thing is that I was not staring at the details of the changes from a vanity standpoint, but really like a spring garden, from a transformational standpoint. I actually felt like I was standing at the edge of a mountaintop after climbing it for days, hands on hips, strong legs, ready for flight, like the climb gave me a set of wings I didn’t know I would be given.

People speak of the “gifts” of cancer. Women who have gone through it have looked at me with a sparkle in their eye, winking, knowing, that I too would be getting a gift that I was not expecting. I usually run for the hills when words like gift and journey come flying at me like seagulls at a clam shack. I wish there were different words, “journey” and “gifts” seem so cliché. The way I feel is like I am at the edge of a monumental force to be reckoned with, it does not feel smooth or clear sailing, but it does feel trusting and open to the powers that await. As I wrestle with the unique struggle it presents, It also feels a little scary. When I find myself in this fearful place of projecting into the future, I can spin into that abyss that can be frightening and debilitating. By now, though, I know this about myself. When I can summon the courage to stay in the present, to be alone with my strengths and release the judgments of my weaknesses, this is my power that I know is within me. This is the force that I create when I am most in tune with my core. No one else can supplement this. No thing can replace this. Only I can call it, drive it, direct it and allow it. I know that this unique change that is the physical in my upper body is only the beginning of what changes lie ahead in the deeper realm of my spirit. I welcome its place in me, but the temptation to control is overwhelming. The practice run of releasing control this past two weeks as I haven’t been able to do the most basic of tasks, making my bed, laundry, folding, emptying the dishwasher, needing someone to give me rides, cook for me and help me dry off from a shower is the warm up. I have worked on allowing and appreciating the gracious help from friends, my Aunt and my partner for the first time in my life.

This has not been easy; I have found that it is not easy to relinquish control. The feelings that arise like guilt and the notion that people may think I am taking advantage of their kindness surprise and jolt me because I know this is not true. I criticize myself for these thoughts, then criticize myself for criticizing the thoughts and wonder how many women who are going through this or something similar struggle with these feelings and why? I know the people who are helping me are doing so because it is their desire and deep expression of love for me. The receiving of love and kindness seem to be the area I need to work on, it just feels foreign in its actuality. This makes me so sad because it feels like I have been working on this for my entire life and when these luscious gifts come at me with the force and magnitude of which they have shown up, it is unfamiliar territory. Will I ever be able to just simply accept and allow love in the way people present it? Will I ever be able to just receive it without feeling like I have to give it back asap. Will I ever be able to understand that everyone shows their love in different forms, but it doesn’t mean that the love is not as strong or as real? Will I ever be able to understand and accept love unconditionally without the proverbial strings attached that I was raised and of course influenced by for the foundation of my early years?

Perhaps this is the precipice I stand at; perhaps this is the transformational element to this experience. The need to know outcome is part of the struggle and I know that staring at my new self in the mirror is the delicious reminder that not only is it out of my control, but that I have none and must accept the changes that are inevitable. Despite the amount of times I stare, the changes are unknown and that this is the lesson. Or maybe for a change there is no lesson and “it” just simply “is.” Is this even possible? My partner has a sign that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I sometimes think that this sign was designed with me in mind as the thinking part of me is in overdrive as I muddle through this murky swamp that is transformation. I know from my life experience that the murkiness is the juice that propels me into the light. Without it, the light isn’t nearly as sweet on the other side because there is no darkness to compare it to. So for the rest of today at least (one day at a time, or one minute in this case) I will attempt to stay put in the moment, to embrace the power that my stance in the mirror reflected back knowing that I am safe, I am grateful, I am loved and I love back fiercely with a power that is my deepest truth.

My truth is the best I can do.


My garden growing. I can hear the cardinals everywhere but I haven’t seen one in my yard for a few weeks. They are always for me the reminder that all is well in my world.

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DAY TEN + ELEVEN

DAY TEN + ELEVEN

Today is officially the start of WEEK TWO. What a difference a week makes. I actually took a shower forgetting that I had all of these contraptions attached to me. I put on a tee shirt over my head today, though goodness knows how I will get it off. It is the little things that I have taken for granted that make me so grateful for my health and wellness despite this diagnosis.This is where the healing fork in the road begins, you know that place where you start to feel really good, your energy is much higher too and you say to yourself, “I can fold those clothes or put those dishes away or change the sheets,”(yes I feel that good).

Here’s the thing I am absolutely convinced of going forward for anyone who has the misfortune of this diagnosis and let’s be frank, breast cancer these days seems as common as the common cold, being fit going in will save your ass on the other side. Let’s say you just found out you have to have surgery or something and you have at least a few weeks before you get rushed in. Even better, you don’t have a diagnosis, but based on the fact that it seems every corner you turn, someone you know has been diagnosed, there is a likelihood that a diagnosis of some sort may be looming in your future, I propose a breast cancer boot camp to prepare your body for what’s to come. I am totally convinced that if it weren’t for all of my fitness classes (and staying away from those PVD Donuts, sorry Michelle M.) my stellar recovery would be at a much different pace.

I am not suggesting that if you are “wicked” out of shape, thirty days till your surgery is going to lead to a mind blowing recovery, but I also know that if you go to that really easy place to get to, the “fuck it I have cancer” place, your recovery will suck the life out of you. So what is alayne’s version of breast cancer boot camp? Picture a diamond shape, this isn’t pretty, but you get the point.


Everything listed is super important in our inner and outer health. Of course as I am still trying to get through my thick skull, it is Progress NOT perfection. Perfection is set up to fail so this is part of my overall work with my new friend, Patience. The four areas on the outside: food, movement, breathing and sleep are the biology of our needs. So for thirty days or ten, whatever time you have to get your bad ass self ready for battle because surgery is like battle. You will be scarred, your body will be insulted with chemical warfare, weapons and your healing powers need to be in tip top shape so they can be activated to their full potential. I think of all four elements the areas that were the most important in my healing were deep breathing, strength and core work. As far as food went, I am a really healthy eater for the most part, but I highly recommend WHOLE 30 https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/ as a thirty day plan to get your food situation in order. If you are rolling your eyes at me, fuck the food, but at least do the fitness.

Wait a minute before I free the food piece from your consciousness, the main reason I tend to eat clean has nothing to do with weight and pounds, I released that yoyo bullshit a long time ago when I decided to stop stepping on the demoralizing scale. I eat clean because it makes my brain happier and way calmer. When I am off kilter with eating, I am an emotional rollercoaster. So far in all of my writings I have been a pretty open book about who I am on the inside, but the depth of despair, weakness and insecurity brain that kicks in when I am high on sugar and carbohydrates is not pretty. I can disguise it pretty well, but it is a madwoman force that I have to wrestle down to the ground. That madwoman I speak of totally disappears when sugar and carbohydrates disappear, oh yeah and wine too, sorry. Sugar, carbs and wines affect your natural sleep pattern too. And we need sleep, we need good sleep or else we get a little crazy, just ask a new mom. So when the emotional rollercoaster of a diagnosis shows its face, the first thing we all want to do is run to the sugar container, or our wine rack, it is exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing to get our bodies ready for battle

If you are blatantly out of shape, like when you walk up a flight of stairs you get out of breath, just focus on walking up and down a small flight of stairs a few times a day and do planks http://www.wikihow.com/Perform-the-Plank-Exercise every day even if you can only do one for five seconds. This is the best core builder and this core will help you get your ass out of a bed and into a bed and up from the couch in a way that will help you when you can’t use your upperbody strength at all (and you won’t). I think a track is a great (and private) way to start moving. Walk the track, try to jog a little between your walk and even better, walk the stadium steps, that will whip your legs and ass into shape faster than you can imagine.

While you are at it, do some deep breathing, you will have anyway since your heart will be working a little differently than you may be used to. This is a pretty good article on breathing https://www.womentowomen.com/exercise-and-lifestyle/deep-breathing/2/ . The funny thing is as I looked for articles on breathing, the ads that were all over the articles were filled with drug sponsors. So much easier to pop a pill than use our natural God given bodies I suppose, but not for me. I refuse to get sucked into the pharma vortex.

Anyway as I reread this writing today, it is a little all over the place, I said to Michael this morning (partner, not son, Michael) that I am feeling a little ADD today. We both concluded that before going in to surgery I was preparing for battle, but coming out I have given myself a pretty free pass. Walking, breathing, creating and laughing as much as I am capable of, yes, but sugar and carbs also. For some reason I crave them (stress lures me to them and so does every girlfriend I have as the quantity of treats that continue to appear at my doorstep is astounding). So I am not drinking because Oxy and alcohol is a terrible mix but today as amazing as I feel, I can also feel distraction head as I dart from one project to the next with a lack of direction and purpose that I usually have. But fuck it, it has only been one full week so my two week pass is almost up and if PVD donuts find their way to my doorstep, I will not hesitate.

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DAY NINE

DAY NINE

I know I am getting older when I look at the front cover of a Good Housekeeping Magazine and don’t even recognize the woman in the front cover. Last I checked I thought I was Good Housekeeping’s target audience. I mean this has been happening since I was about forty when I happened to pick up a fashion magazine and had no clue about who most of the women were as the magazine was reviewing their dresses from some function they attended.

“There’s nothing sexier than life experience,” Connie Britton is quoted on the front of this month’s GH. I turned to page 44 to see who Connie was. Apparently GH made the assumption that all of us women knew who she was. Then I noticed that GH got the bright idea to do two more covers, like covers within covers. Tracee Ellis Ross, “I wear what makes my heart sing!” and lastly Rashida Jones, “I push myself to do something new and uncomfortable every year.” Again, having no idea who any of these women were, I quickly turned to the section to see what sage advice they would be giving filtered of course through the Good Housekeeping seal of approval lens.

It is funny, I love women, I love women who own their shit (literally and figuratively as we all now by now), but I have a deep disdain for magazines. In my business I have never allowed them because I can’t stand the comparisons we naturally make just because it our female nature to do so. But because I own a beauty business, I get about five to ten magazines a week as promotional pieces (aka free). After doling the ones out I can’t bear to look at, I usually keep the ones that are more targeted for fifty somethings.

Today when I glanced at the quote from Connie, “There’s nothing sexier than life experience,” I just had to go cynical for a moment. What the hell, it’s Easter and I am sure that even Jesus must have had some cynicism at some point in his short life, (like maybe the crucifixion).

First off Connie is a beautiful white woman, actress, champion for poverty and women’s empowerment, has even been to Rwanda and Kenya (to prove it?) And she just recently adopted a boy from Ethiopia. She is fifty and smashing, starring in Friday Night Lights, (yes, I actually have heard of that) among other shows, but as I sit here with tubes and drains hanging off my back, tits as hard as baseballs that are starting to turn kind of lumpy (this is perfectly normal Dr. Hottie assured me at my last visit) I am not quite sure that this part of life experience is that sexy. What does sexy even mean and why is Connie telling me that is the bar I am supposed to be reaching for?

Of course as you can imagine, I turned to the second cover and low and behold, there is Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana (defintitely know who she is….ohhhhh love to love you baby or is that Donna Summer? Google, take me away. Yes Donna Summer. Sorry Diana.) “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” There we go. Now that has a message especially from a powerhouse like Diana Ross in the time she became a business woman. Oh GH, how come Tracee is not the cover? Are we still in the fifties where blond white woman are the preferred front cover? At least you tried with second and third place. Third cover is Rashida Jones as in daughter of Quincy, know him, and Peggy Lipton. OMG Peggy Lipton! Mod Squad Peggy Lipton. Definitely know who she is. So third place goes to mixed race Rashida. Really GH? Well it turns out that Tracee is mixed race too, but her dad is Jewish, good going GH, you covered the industry pretty well. Connie’s parents had both died within three years of each other so not sure who they were, but obviously her life and image was deemed Cover # 1. Mmmm is there a possibility that the three covers are being shown differently throughout the country depending on the demographics? Alright I have to stop this madness. I don’t really fricking care and this is why I don’t read magazines. But as I stared at Connie in her “fit and flare” off white dress, “This dress is all the proof you need that you don’t have to show cleavage or bare arms to look and feel sexy,” some GH beauty editor crooned.

Why am I going through all of this reconstruction then if I don’t have to show cleavage ever again? (Because I actually like my cleavage for one.) I felt relieved because I was seriously concerned about how my life may go on and now thanks to Good Housekeeping I have realized that I can be hopeful that my sex appeal is check marked. Let me just take one more sneak peak and just see how this dress may fit into my life (not that I would be caught dead in this dress ever). Well the shoes ($120) are available at Macy’s (.com because brick and mortars are on their way to extinction) except for Bloomingdales where the dress is. (I will have to get a ride to Newton, Mass because I can’t drive, you know that range of motion thing and for those of us who have been on 128 North, you know you need full range of motion.) No price listed. Let’s see, Bloomingdales not listed as .com and no price, I am guessing that this simple little number is likely over five hundred dollars. So Connie’s eight foot legs and slender arms and waist not worrying about cleavage and bare arms anyway seems to be the perfect role model for me and my sexy aspirations. I don’t know, but if I had proud Connie’s fifty year old legs and slender arms and no mastectomied breasts, I think I would be showing all that shit off. After all it takes a lot of work to get to fifty and even have that to camoflauge. Why hide it?

I think it would be fun to have GH do a spread on women with drains and new construction after lumpectomies and double mastectomies but not make it a point. Just throw us in as we are with all of our scars and incisions and lymphedema potential and bald heads for those of us who couldn’t miss the chemo step (thank you God, I was saved from that one) and radiation burns. Just like they shouldn’t be pointing out the mixed race women and the women who are proud to show their curves like that is something special (according to Rashida who pointed out that there was an actual “J Lo Effect” her words not mine) How about just treating women as women, women who have more than twenty percent body fat, cellulite, women who have some arm flab because unless you are my fitness instructor, Kathy, it is likely most normal woman have some.

Ok, let me take off my cynical hat now and say I am sure Good Housekeeping has come a long way. So I decided to take a look briefly online to pose the question to google, “When was the first black woman featured on the front cover of Good Housekeeping?” The only thing I could come up with without going to a library site. to authentically research the question was a paper written by Connie Johnson from Minnesota State University in 2015. http://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/438/ that covered questions I had never even considered like objectification, white masking and hypersexualized imaging. I am putting the link to this research paper here because it is pretty interesting if you want to be gender smarter today.

The harsh reality was that only 4.2% of the top magazines had an African American woman on the cover where white women where featured 81% of the time. Ms. Johnson was really looking more at the hows of the features versus the quantites, but it was a great mind opening for me and reminded me of how much I love gender classes. But I couldn’t find a single link with my question of who was first African American woman on Good Housekeeping. Stay tuned. This will be on my list of something to occupy my time this upcoming week as I am feeling so great, this will be an interesting task that doesn’t require much physical, but lots of mental and this I love.

Anyway enough ranting about silly things. I know their job is to sell magazines. Pictures of chemo or radiated or double mastectomied women no matter how much we are used to looking at ourselves does not sell magazines. At this point though I don’t buy them anyway. So if I can’t even find the date that the first African American woman was featured on Good Housekeeping’s front cover since it’s first release in 1885, they have a long way to go before a fifty two year old self confident formerly radiated newly mastectomied and reconstructed mama, entrepreneur, friend anointed Wonder Woman and self proclaimed inner beauty advocate gets her time in their sun. Thank goodness I create my own.


October 1965 the year I was born. Glad to see GH focus was 120 ways to please a man with their special section on food, beauty and most importantly homemaking. Guess Cosmopolitan’s Helen Gurley Brown’s influence was starting to permeate even the most wholesome of magazines.