I woke up this morning on my back in a prone position with each of my hands cupping each of my new breasts. Isn’t that hilarious?
After I came to from that state of sleep where you are not fully awake, I, of course removed my hands, but took a gander down at these oddities staring back at me. They pointed straight up, solid as two rocks, with zero movement and I realized how much I am enjoying this new adventure in and on my body.
Flexibility in your breasts, natural movement, jiggling, are all things that cease and desist when you get reconstruction in stages starting with tissue expanders like I have. The form of my breasts has to be expanded over time and though at first this was frightening to me, these two rock hard additions to my front upper body have grown on me, literally. Literally because they are expanding and growing each time Dr. Hottie adds the fluid at my regular appointments. I can see why plastic surgery can be kind of addictive because at my first consultation I specifically told him that I wanted to stay my own size. What I didn’t realize is that my own size was based on a middle age upper body (aka sagging, drooping, not perky and upright) When these babies stood upright, it was like I had a whole new look, it almost looks like I am taller and now I feel like I want to play bigger boob dress up. What the hell, I just survived breast cancer twice, found out I have a life threatening genetic mutation that has swept through my closest male family members, I deserve to play dress up, right?
Today is my doctor appointment and I am actually looking forward to another fill. I found myself disappointed at my last appointment when Dr. M. didn’t do a fill (probably because I was over fifteen minutes late, Rhode Island on a map seriously looks like you can get anywhere in ten minutes, but an hour later I arrived, blasted traffic and all of those bridges)
For some reason, this seven weeks post surgery experience has been an experience of a lifetime. I get to look at it this way because my cancer was found early twice so I am one of the lucky ones because I did not have to face the notion of early death, but what does this mean anyway? The fact is no one gets out alive and the older we get, the more we get closer to this reality. I love the fact that large big “problems” are totally insignificant now. My beautiful man refers to this as “the nonsense,” the shit that deserves no attention or our precious energy. You know the things that we freak out about that turn into a gigantic snowball at the time, but then a month later we can barely remember what all the fuss was about. I can’t believe how much shit I have let go of that used to stop me in my tracks and immobilize me in OCD behavior. For many of us on this planet, we are lucky if we get eighty or ninety years of life. The adventure of my remaining time is about joy, pep in my step, smiling for no reason, staying happy in the present moment when my mind starts to think ahead too much with silly planning or worry about the future. I have no control of the “it,” the only control I have is right now. What gives me juice? What makes me incredibly joyous? The answers to these questions are the answers to these questions. The literal shedding of a body part has changed me. The freedom, the release of weight and permission to live is the glorious light of this wild adventure that has forced me to question everything I allow in my radar. Holy didn’t see this coming, but sure glad it did.
I have been teaching and talking the beauty business since I was in my late twenties. I remember like it was yesterday, women who are my age now, saying, “Just wait.” I looked in the mirror as I do everyday and have done for most of my life and realized, it has happened. The “just wait” has happened. The weird lines forming in places I swear weren’t there yesterday, the hairs sprouting from places other than my head, eyebrows and eyelashes. The white wiry hairs showing up in my eyebrows, my eyelashes and yes my vagina hair, what the fuck.
I somewhat defiantly decided to stop coloring my hair over ten years ago and it is whiter than ever, quite the beauty trend these days, who knew? At least this is one part of my hair growth I can say I love. People regularly tell me how much they love my hair. I often reply that there has to be some benefit to the quantity of hair growth because along with this thick attractive mane I am blessed with, comes regular appointments in the magnifying mirror with the tweezers. I keep the local electrologist in business and thank goodness I own a beauty business because waxing is like a full time job. Have I mentioned that when I decide to tweeze one of those wiry white eye brow hairs, my eyebrows lose their shape pronto.
With all of this obsession of hair removal which by the way will never be finished, comes that pesky problem of a weaker eye sight. Perhaps part of the divine order of things is that the weakening eyesight means I can see less so therefore can stop obsessing about the perpetual removal of the never ending hair supply. Could this be an unintended blessing? Doubtful, since now nighttime driving is becoming more and more challenging. So much for divine intervention.
The other life changes that fall into the ‘Just Wait’ category are the belly bloating that happens after one glass of wine and seems to now last well over a few wine free days. Then there is that weird creppy dry skin no oils or creams seems to remedy and believe me when I tell you I have access to the best. Though in all truth here, the rose and jojoba oil I sell is hands down the best I have found. The weird skin texture change, thought is in the infancy stages and I am guessing my years of continued sun exposure have something to do with its residence and there is simply no stopping it.
Add to the abundant supply of visual body changes all of those sun spots showing up on my face, my hands and my chest. I can just hear my grandmother Isabelle’s unsolicited stay out of the burning sun advice I will likely pass on to my granddaughter if I ever have the good fortune to have one in my life.
Of course no matter how much I work out, eat better, my body shape is forever different. One because of my age and my life experience, but also because of four surgeries in two years. Scars, indentations, lumpiness all contribute to this new body shape I have come to really admire and embrace like a warrior wound. At least my breasts are upright and super rocking. Not too many of my fifty something girl friends can say this. (On this note, thank goodness.)
The deep inherited lines that seem like a genetic rite of passage and not necessarily in a good way, have also been a new observation. There is this grown up woman in the reflection staring back almost daring me to question their placement.
“Stop frowning,” I can hear my mother saying when I was a child (back when Ann was speaking to me), “We’ll never find you a rich Jewish husband if you have frown lines. It makes you look old.” The fact was I wasn’t frowning, I was squinting because my eyesight since I was in second grade was always weak and I just squinted to see better. Oh yeah, and then there was the actual commentary that likely requires its own separate writing at a later time. How about instead of looking for a man to supplement me, giving me a message of my own ability to take care of my own lovely bad ass self? I am guessing that this would have required my mother to feel this way about herself and this was likely not the case in her twenties, married with a six year old and a newborn. There was always an underlying half joking/ half seriousness to the one liners like this. They undoubtedly found their way into my belief systems forming opinions of myself as I foraged my own self worth and my ability to provide for myself. Instead I got married way too early and no, he wasn’t Jewish or a doctor, but his kind heart was spectacular, certainly a most important criteria for a partner at 24.
In my cleaning of the closets and of the stuff, I came across a book that my mother had given me when I first opened my business and it seemed as our relationship was in the ebb and flow of better for a moment. The book was, The Easy to Read, “The Little Engine That Could,” by Walter Piper. I opened it knowing there would be an inscription. Her familiar writing stared back with its kind encouraging words, “Dearest Alayne, Whenever you doubt your decision, just read this book. I love you, Mom.” Even though it was a children’s book, there is definitely a memory of this book in my early childhood. I often wondered if my mother gave me this book because it triggered a memory of a happier time in her life where she remembered the love she had for me then, before it got all wonky and foggy from years of alcohol abuse. There were times in the ebb and flow my mother probably tried just like there were probably times I tried too, it’s just that at the times each of us made the attempt, it was in gestures, but never a healthy discussion to repair the wounds. Gestures are like bandaids, at some point you have to take them off and let the air in and we never did that.
My hair and skin texture have changed, but so has my personal texture. These physical changes that have become a regular occurrence in my exterior are ironically creating a deeper meaning on my insides. I amaze myself at how much I have come to really enjoy the changes. This has surprised me the most.
Maybe this is the point of aging and releasing the peripheral image of our youth we have equated with beauty, the work of letting go of what we thought of was beauty at one point in our lives in fact goes within simply because there is no alternative. My hair is not going to get darker, my stomach is not going to be a six pack, my eye sight will not improve and the spots on my face from too much sun worshipping that I still continue to indulge in will surely not lessen. The only thing I can do is to work on my insides with patience, love and admiration. The calmness and joy I feel just by looking up and looking out these days is both refreshing and liberating. I recently hired three new employees who are in their early twenties. As I speak with them often and listen to their language about life, I realize our huge age gap. Not just in numbers, but in outlook and thought patterns. I can say with absolute truth that I would never want to go back to that time in my life. This is a wonderful aspect of aging, knowing that you couldn’t pay me to go back to that age, no matter, no matter how smooth my skin was and how tight my ass was. I way prefer my aging and peaceful head any day.
Though I haven’t said it aloud, I have found myself thinking, Just Wait.
The book from Ann and my bad ass lovely 52 year old self. Just Wait.
The only thing about life returning to normal, is that normal is no longer. Sure, I can move through my day speckling it with my concept of normal ‘BC’ (before cancer, before brch2, before Ann not speaking to me). I can fill my days with what used to be the norm of normal and those things are still in this category. Going to the movies, out to dinner with friends, walking my colorful and energized garden, hanging out with my partner, my son, are all classified on the outside as normal. The truth is that these outside parts of my world are forever changed because they all have a totally different meaning now inside.
When I think of how fast seven weeks has gone by and how quickly my recovery has been, I am even more struck by what I now deem important and how I spend my time. I decided to really clean up all of the excess I have accumulated for a few reasons. One is that it feels like if I were to go to a feng shui expert, she would say I am literally weighted down with stuff. The second reason is because cancer makes me feel like I am closer to the mirror of my own mortality and because of this, what I leave my son to have to deal with when the time comes is my legacy. I want my legacy for him to be that when he walks into this house, the only stuff he has to deal with is the stuff that is meaningful and important to keep.
This means a lot of work, but in my healing and I am talking emotional here, not so much physical, the catharsis is going through the stuff and contemplating its residence in my life. In addition to the stuff in my basement, my closets and in my house; it also includes all of the crap I have stored in my computer. I actually spent a few hours the other day going through every document I have and deleting and organizing. I can’t explain the incredible feeling of satisfaction I had when I completed this. Now that I have the goal of creating a legacy of coolness for my son so he doesn’t have to deal with the decisions of what to toss or not to toss when that day ever comes, I have a really clear purpose of what needs to happen and I have the motivation too.
I decided I am going to create a little mini store of my things that are no longer useful in my own life and allow people to just come and make a donation if they find something that would be useful in their lives. This feels like a great way to repurpose things. I have even named it, Miss Alayneous. It will be a small store within my Bristol, RI location. I am intrigued by the notion that I have enough stuff to actually open a store. Clothes, hats, shoes, glasses, housewares, rugs, furniture. It is unbelievable what I have considered important previously and no longer feel an attachment to. This is what I mean when I talk about how normal has changed for me. I will never be who I was again. I actually welcome this new visitor in my body. I have become strikingly more patient and kind to this new friend, I call ‘myself.’ Is it a combination of traumatic events and the natural aging process that has redirected me into this new lovely dominant feeling of true self acceptance? Probably. I was out with my friend for dinner last night and we were reviewing all of the traumatic events that have occurred in my world, not in a way that is negative, but more in the scope of how I have approached these things. She was commenting on how positive I have looked at these challenges. The funny thing for me is that the way I look at these darts and arrows is organic. It is not like I wake up and try to transform my thinking to turn it into a more positive outlook, it is just the way I think automatically.
A quote by Wayne Dyer I have lived by is, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
SEVEN WEEKS indeed.
One of my dearest friends and I at one of my most favorite restaurants, Al Forno.
(this writing makes more sense when THE STAPLER; PART ONE is read first)
I would really like to take my grandmother’s stapler and slam it over my mother’s head. No not really but the fact that she is not speaking to me and asking me to never contact her again warrants the fantasy. I have had dreams about interactions with her where I am screaming at the top of my lungs at her, “you are such a fucking bitch, I fucking hate you.” This is odd and unsettling to me actually because I really don’t feel this way. Maybe there is more truth in the feeling of needing the release to occur and the dream is the only rational place it can happen. Oddly, I am not screaming angry about the release. When a mother consciously (or unconsciously depending on the quantity of wine in the box prior to the push of the send button) releases a child, though, I don’t think there is ever a finality. I will live with this odd no relationship relationship until one of us dies and even then I am sure it will still linger.
It is interesting to me that the stapler that has become an integral part of my life from my grandmother who I adored and adored me has turned into a weapon in this writing to injure Ann, aka my mother. I really thought I had moved past her and allowed her absence to not be such a loud force in my energy field, but when a thought like this pops into my writing, I guess it is still working itself out of me.
I miss my grandmothers. The stapler that grounds me with its vintage well made structure is their metaphor in my life. I am often at a loss without their female power. I have them certainly as part of the fabric of my cape, but their physical strength was a real supplement for Ann’s emotional absence and that was when Ann still had a physical place in my life.
Kitsie and Isabelle, my other grandmother, my father’s mother, were both college graduates, they both grew up well cared for financially and they both knew the importance of cultural exposure to the education, arts, music and travel. They both exposed me to their world with intense maternal love without all of the strings attached that my own mother put on love and connection.
I miss them more every day and I love how a silly stapler transported me back into their lives as I remember their sounds, their smells and most importantly their never ending unconditional love. I don’t think I realized how much of an impact their absence has had in my world this past year. I mean I obviously know that grandmothers can’t be around forever. I think the loss of them, along with my aunt, my brother, and my father leaving me to deal with Ann or rather the now ‘not dealing’ with her is a bright bold vacancy sign flashing at a motel along a highway somewhere out west. What do you do when your own mother gives you the permission to never contact her again, when you know it is the ultimate sacrifice and a strange gift because your relationship was so fractured it can not be repaired. There is simply so much sadness and pain that it doesn’t even seem worthy of the work it would take.
I see a pretty vase, not super beautiful, but pretty enough and comfortable enough as it traveled with me in my years. I picture a vase that has been in my life for a long time, but not really significant in my life decisions anymore, yet important enough to keep in my life. I see it falling off a pedestal and shattering into a million pieces. As it lay there on the ground, even though it has been with me for my entire life, I see clearly that I would never be able to salvage it. So instead, I let the thousands of pieces lie there for a time. Like inexpensive china, the shards are everywhere. The thought of sweeping every single piece into a dustpan is just a little too much for me right now. I manage to walk away from the mess and let it lie knowing when I am ready, I will pull out the broom, maybe even the vacuum and do a thorough cleaning so not a single fragment stays behind to pierce my bare foot.
Maybe the cleaning of my basement is the start.
Isabelle many years ago and me with my very young mother I think she was 20.
The red dictionary in its self contained holder sat on her shelf above her typewriter for as long as I can recall her writing space in her Newton, Massachusetts apartment. Her writing space was where she typed all of recipes on index cards for me for my 21st birthday request. Her writing space was where she wrote illegible handwritten notes to thank people or correspond with old friends because this was all before email.
She being Kitsie, one of my beloved grandmothers, my mother’s mother who loved language and used phrases like, “She was a colorless girl,” to describe a plain Jane with low energy and not much of a vivid personality. “He who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed,” was another requote. “Enough blue in the sky to make a Dutchman’s pants,” was another one to describe whether there would be enough blue in the sky to turn the semi cloudy day into a sunnier one.
The red fabric covered dictionary along with her stapler, strong, sturdy, heavy and weighted sits next to my computer mirroring where it would have been in relation to her typewriter. I don’t really remember its specific placement, but after she died, my aunts and I went through her things and along with the red dictionary from 1969, I hungrily claimed the stapler as my own. This gun metal greenish grey stapler has been with me ever since. Every time I staple anything and I staple a lot because of my business paperwork, I am grounded with its vintage well made structure of the past when things like staplers were made to last. Before some Madman type character sitting around a conference table at a meeting came up with the idea to make shitty things because their company realized if they continued to make staplers that never needed to be replaced, how would the company be able to sell more staplers to the masses?
I’m not really sure if this was the case, but it does seem that cars, refrigerators, washers and driers are built to wear out forcing consumerism on us because we cannot live without these things. When did our world become so disposable? As brilliant as those Madmen may have thought it was, just take a ride to a dump and see where all of these ideas ended up in the mass pile of appliances that we now have to figure how our earth is supposed to process them.
My other grandmother, Isabelle always said that she spent the first half of her marriage accumulating stuff and the last half trying to get rid of the stuff. I can relate as I have been really considering the amount of stuff I have accumulated in my 52 years. I started cleaning the shit out of my basement and am embarrassed by what I have accumulated; a literal weight going on beneath my feet.
At 52, surviving breast cancer twice now, so far anyway, after all it has only been SIX WEEKS, though it may seem morbid to some, the pragmatism I learned from both of my grandmothers is taking over my starry eyed sentimental collector self. Breast cancer no matter how early we caught it has made me face my mortality. It makes me rise to the word, RESPONSBILITY, that my grandparents taught me as I think about my son and my friends having to go through all of my shit if I were to leave this planet. The burden of having to get rid of it all and it ending up in places other than the dump has created a sense of urgency as I consider the quantity.
I have way too much stuff.
I have started giving it away and it has not made one dent. There are the valuable things I have, like my Great Grandfather’s silver Kiddish cups my family has used for Passover services for over seventy five years, and tea cups from Russia and Germany from both sides of my Great Grandmother’s families.
There are the sentimental things whose value is only in the heart connection I feel when I look at them, like the stapler and the red dictionary; no one else knows their histories, except for me and frankly no one really cares either. The turquoise kitchen pieces from the fifties, or the rusty pink cannisters I found at a yard sale for ten cents that I actually went out looking for that day. They are reminders for me that I am always divinely taken care of and everything happens in the divine right order. Like when I am having a creative thought and see a cardinal at the exact same time, I like signs like this, they are affirming and energizing.
Besides “the stuff,” when I finally made it down into my basement on Sunday, it took me an hour just to go through the paint cans. What the fuck is a single woman who has never painted a wall in her entire life going to do with all of these paint cans? Besides the obvious ones that are from over ten years ago and need to be trashed, how about the cans of almost full colors that I have accumulated to do what with, touch up a spot on a wall? When I am ready to touch up a wall, I will likely be ready to paint it a different color.
When I consider the literal weight of all of this stuff living in the foundation of my home, I am concerned about the psychological impact it is having on my spirit, my creativity and I know it needs to be freed. I also know that there are items I can never release and my son will have to figure it out or keep them as his own reminders, afterall maybe no one needs a real live vintage dictionary that doesn’t have words like “google” as in “to google something,” or “cell phone,” but everyone still needs a stapler, right?
One of the few “advantages” of getting cancer depending on how you look at shit coming at you and your scope of the rose colored glass way of looking at things is that I was able to get a medical marijuana card. I got this card that has a two year shelf life the first time I was diagnosed two years ago. Now, some reading this may be horrified at this notion, after all many people feel that marijuana is a gateway drug to all kinds of horrible other drugs; this may be true, but it is not my truth so before the judgment factor kicks in, hear my own take on this.
“Back in the day” meaning my high school days in Jamestown, RI, a small three by nine mile island connected by two bridges, there wasn’t much to do. Add to this formula, a super shitty relationship with my newly divorced mother causing me to live with the other half of the newly divorced father. Then there was the zero parenting as my liberal father believed that “I’d figure it out.” Not quite sure how my father came to the conclusion that a fifteen year old girl was capable of this, but in my world and all of my friends’ worlds, oddly, all of our parents had this way of thinking. Perhaps we just found each other because we intuitively connected our branches since we all seemed to simultaneously lack the roots in our own homes.
Needless to say, a group of fifteen, sixteen year olds living on a contained island figured it out alright, with a little help from drugs and alcohol. Frankly, I am happy we navigated ourselves and lived to tell about it without all of the parent intervention that goes on these days because every single one of us managed to “figure it out.” This was probably due to a combination of lots of luck for sure but also white privilege and a middle class upbringing in a quaint New England town. Of course the heroin and opioid addiction was not in our radar, but the cocaine and crack cocaine epidemic surely was. Somehow every one of my circle of friends managed ourselves in and around all of this, mostly staying in the marijuana and alcohol circle. In some cases as we got older, many friends stopped drinking altogether and most of us ceased all drugs because this is just what you did when you grew up and had to find your way in the responsible world of work and life. We turned out alright maybe because we had the freedom to in fact figure it out.
When we were kids in Jamestown with nothing to do and no parenting which translated into no curfew and no rules, it was hanging out at the beach, playing backgammon, and smoking pot. In hindsight, it was a really unique adolescent experience. I am by no means an advocate of this style of parenting because basically my friends and I all raised ourselves and as it turns out each other too. Things could have gone drastically wrong, but the advantage that we had is that living on an island was basically safe. We lived within walking distance and most of our delinquent behavior was confined to being on foot on warm summer eves. The other advantage of this upbringing is it made me hyper aware of what teenagers are capable of so when I was given the privilege of having my own child, things were very different (aka way more conservative) in the way my own upbringing influenced my parenting style.
Obtaining a medical marijuana card was a victory for me and also homage to my beautiful brother. Before his death at 25, he was a staunch advocate for its legalization for at least medicinal purposes and it was really the only thing that helped him through his pain. I saw it with my own eyes and anyone who has not personally experienced marijuana’s ability to help cancer patients (and many others for that matter) has not lived in its harsh and very painful reality. So my first time in the facility was like going to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I learned so much about the different strains that help different ailments and though I am sure people obtain cards who don’t need them as seriously as others, the fact that people are being helped with quality marijuana vs. the street and often badly laced marijuana is a positive. After a few trips into the compassion center, I found it had done what it needed for me and my use of it tapered off as I healed. So I started thinking about this last bout with cancer and my upcoming card renewal. Would I be able to get a renewal since theoretically there is no more cancer because there are no more breasts?I started thinking about this double mastectomy and reconstruction six weeks out and the incredible tightness that is now an official band around my upper body with no exit in sight. I considered the other benefits which don’t fall under medicinal in the medical sense to occasionally very responsibly and very legally indulging in a, yes I inhale, puff of a good old fashioned joint. The creative energy that comes to me is astounding. I rearrange, I clean, I organize, I create. Of course I can’t have a regular conversation with the public, but it does offer a wonderful way to go deep within and shut my never stopping brain from the never ending chatter that at times stops my creative flow.
So yesterday was a stunning day and I felt really great. I was going to my first party in over two months where there would be dancing and I was so excited to get dressed up, put makeup on and hang out in normal land. I found myself with about four hours of glorious free time and decided to head out to my barn to begin to prepare it for the upcoming Art in the Garden tour that my beautiful garden will be featured in. I realized that I would have to approach this slowly as I am still really cautious of what I should be lifting and moving. This would be a gentle rearrange, not a full blown purge because I simply can not reach and bend to the level it calls for. I still have some of the pot I had bought many months ago and decided to indulge to get the motivation to at least begin the barn cleaning.
I forgot how much I love smoking pot sometimes. I never really do, because it just makes me way too slow and as I said before I can’t talk to anyone, this eliminates the ability to run my company, be a parent and basically be a responsible grownup, but on these rare occasions when I give myself permission to really chill out, there is nothing like a few hits off a really good joint. It also transports me back to my adolescence before technology became our power source and when our circles of social were humans not media. It also transports me to when my father and my brother were alive and my mother was talking to me. So I think on occasion an Alice in Wonderland trip down the rabbit hole is worth the fall.
I was imbibing for the creative and spiritual power and to take the edge off of the last six weeks of trying to conduct my life as it was knowing the was will never be again. It is a lot. It has been a wonderful (I can’t believe I am saying that) but overwhelming experience and I had a four hour window to escape into an alter universe. An amazing observation occurred and this is why I decided to write about medical marijuana today because my intention when I decided to smoke a joint yesterday did not include the true medical benefit I had forgotten about.
Fifteen minutes into my barn makeover, all of the tightness in my upper body was gone. I am serious. Completely disappeared and stayed away until this morning and even this morning it is not nearly what it was before. I couldn’t believe it. GONE. After my surgery, I was given Oxy, Tylenol, and Motrin for the pain and I took it, but always with the worry that my liver would be compromised or I would become addicted to Oxy like Nurse Jackie. Nothing ever got rid of the tight band around my chest completely like my experience yesterday. The only vestige of the awareness of my upper body was when I went to hug someone, the hard tennis balls I now call my breasts were the abrupt reminder. So even after the buzz of the joint wore off, after I cleaned the barn, after I took a shower and got dressed and went to the party and danced for the first time, there was no pain, no discomfort. This lasted longer than all of the damaging pharmaceutical drugs that I have exposed my body to for the last six weeks. Two and a half hits off of a medical marijuana joint which by the way cost less than three dollars and all of my discomfort disappeared.
When my brother was alive, he believed that the pharmaceutical industry was responsible for the reasons that medicinal marijuana had not become legalized. After my experience yesterday, I can see why he thought this. There is no reason why medicinal marijuana should not be legal. Why do we want to encourage prescriptions of Oxy, proven to be a gateway drug that causes family destruction, lying, theft, and terrible criminal acts when it is over prescribed? Why do we want to continue with prescribing high dosages of Motrin and Tylenol that people are taking like candy when it is proven to be very harmful to our livers and stomachs? Why do we allow all these expensive and highly addictive prescriptions to take away pain instead of a simple less costly few hits of a good old fashioned medically prescribed marijuana joint? This does make a chick wonder if my brother was right over about his pharma conspiracy theory over twenty years ago.
Holy shit, I am starting to sound like my father. Holy do I miss my father and brother during this time. Not only for their energy and love, but for these wonderful conversations about conspiracy theories, health care industry and big pharma. I know they are with me if not physically at least spiritually FOR SURE.
So as my next project redo, the basement, which will be saved for a rainy Sunday and my next need for a complete respite from my elastic band vibe around my upper body, that toke will be for the three of us, dad, bro and me. AHHH SIX WEEKS. BAM.
My brother, Michael and me when he was in the “maybe he’ll beat this cancer” time.
My father and me ( I was pregnant with my son, Michael here)
My brother and me when he was a junior in Portsmouth high school, first white boy to sport the dreadlocks. He was a rockstar.
As I changed into my gardening clothes yesterday to finally begin cleaning out my barn on the first spectacular sunny summer type day, I took a long hard look at myself.
The day before I had done my weekly traipse to the good Doctor (Dr. Hottie in case you forgot) for my second fill. Apparently when you are the size you think you think want your breasts to be, he needs to go a bit bigger for some stretching reason that will be important later at the next surgery. The general consensus was that after one fill, my new breasts were big enough. It is funny because the shape of them is so different than they were prior to the mastectomy; I think it is the upright standing to attention factor that has changed them so my perception of big enough is skewed. I wish I could put a picture here but no can do. I mean technically they are not real so I should be able to, but why risk whatever I would be risking, (getting booted off the internet?)
So the second fill really created full boobs, one I don’t think my upper body had seen the likes of even in my fullest breast years. When I put on my tank top, I was kind of startled by how great my upper half looked. This presents an interesting dilemma for me. I have always been a form fitting tshirt kind of gal. I always liked cleavage. I used to love push up bras, but gave those up when they were just too uncomfortable and lulu lemon workout tops became my go to support system. My mantra was always that if you have boobs, show them because women were having them lobbed off left and right and you may as well. I must have known that I would eventually be on the chopping block in these early comments I jokingly but somehow knowingly made.
I stared at myself trying to decide if I should continue on with the form fitting shirt (what a dilemma) or keep this new and in my opinion obviously fake, somewhat disguised. My previous experience of women having cosmetic implants was that they really maxed out the visuals with lots of tight shirts. I always thought this kind of odd, but now that I am a twice “survivor” I chose the first. I mean what the fuck, I just had major surgery only FIVE WEEKS ago and the fact that I was staring back at a legitimate upper body should have made me run to the tank top store to stock up. So I put the tank on and enjoyed the view. I mean holy shit. I looked great.
I have been writing so much that now I have a new dilemma. People seeing me out and about knowing I had a double M and their first human nature glance is where else? Not my face for sure. I get it, the curiosity factor is just that and I actually welcome it. The miracle of this surgery in this 2017 is that a mastectomy is a choice that can be either no reconstruction or yes reconstruction. Many young women are choosing no reconstruction, maybe as a statement or a fear or even a welcome opportunity to not think about breasts ever again. Many women don’t even know that there is a FEDERAL mandate for all 50 states that require insurance to cover reconstruction after a mastectomy. This is such a personal decision and it is not a light decision. As the good doctor reminded me on several occasions, this is elective surgery and lots can go wrong. Lots can go right too (knock on wood here) and lots is going right as I navigate this new part of my body that I am so grateful to have had the choice to add or subtract.
What I have noticed in this short time with this latest fill is I LOOK GREAT, people tell me this because cancer usually implies sickness and people’s perception of how I should look is usually different than how I really look. Remember this was caught super early so I didn’t have to deal with chemo and the things that make me otherwise look sick. The other thing I notice and I did this myself BC (before cancer) is that you forget what to talk about with someone who has been diagnosed and you end up having some awkward silence after the first few comments,
“You look great!”
“How are you feeling?”
That is the end. The weird ‘what do we talk about next’ sits in the air, waiting. Even though I am aware of this, I try to come up with some other conversation that does not pertain to AC (after cancer); trying to make it easier for the person on the other side. Maybe it will get easier as I get further away from this experience. But the fact is that I will never be away from it, my very perky upper body will not allow this to be forgotten and I am now on the other side of cancer. Survivor, alive, happy, changed, humbled, open book. I love discussing this experience because as Michael my partner says all the time, LIFE COMING AT US.
Life comes at everyone and I think talking about the down factor lets the proverbial cat out of the bag softening the blow of hardship. I know for me when someone says, YOU LOOK GREAT, I think, “damn straight, I own it.” So if you see me strutting around in a tank top take a good look. I am ok with it because I earned these fuckers and I can’t wait until I can go to the beach and really sass my boobilicious self off.
The greatest thing about FIVE WEEKS is what a difference the extra week has made in my regular life. I am much more mobile, I can sleep on my side, I can exercise. My limitations right now are working and gardening because standing on my feet, lifting and moving things still gets me and because I feel so great, I forget. Usually at around three o clock in the afternoon, I am spent. What spent means is that my upper body is on fire and I need to put my feet up.
The weird thing about improving at this rate is that it is so easy to forget that my body is still recovering and that it is ok to take the time I need to allow it despite the improvements. Why does this make me feel guilty? This is fucked up. I also know this is not an unusual feeling because most every woman I speak to who is as honest as me tells me to go slow but I know that if the roles were reversed I would have to tell them the same thing.
We women are doers, movers, shakers. We multi task, we work, take care of our homes, our families, our lives. We plan vacations, we organize our children, we garden and we take care of shit. We make things happen. I am an open book here in these writings. In all honesty, though I don’t want to have life threatening illnesses, I actually welcomed the respite of being forced to my knees and having to stop.
My fantasy world I live in more times than not is to stop most all technology (except for writing on Medium, of course), to get rid of my cell phone and go retro with a dial phone. To get rid of all social media and email and just figure out how much time I would have on my hands when all is gone. When I say this, my friends and team look in horror and quickly say, “You can’t do this, you have a business!” Or “What about your son, how will he communicate with you?” I know these are all valid points, but how did we all live before all of this madness? I have attempted techno free days, but because people need to get in touch with me, I feel weird not being available. The problem with me and technology is that it is so distracting from my spirit, it takes me on a path where hours fly by and I am not sure what I did for the day. This drives me crazy and gives me something else to feel guilty about. As I explore the voice of guilt, the critic in my head who likes to chat away at my usually positive attitude I am curious about the origins of the voice. At what point did it arrive in my head and decide to take up residence and more importantly why did I allow it to begin with?
I know the things that keep the voice at bay. Meditation, yoga, exercise, eating clean, being in nature, writing, reading, organizing and minimizing all the stuff I have accumulated, but sometimes I just let the wacky critic overtake my brain and I get in my own way. We all wonder why we allow negative thoughts. We know that when we speak to our friends, we would never speak to them like we at times speak to ourselves. We surely wouldn’t have any friends if we said the shit we say to our own selves.
I have had endless conversations with women in my over twenty years in the beauty business and the self defacing commentary that goes on is really intriguing. We offer so much to the world around us in the feminine spirit. We care and raise other human beings, homes, family, yet when it comes to caring wholly for ourselves, we minimize the importance of this.
I realized as I write this today, that I have not been to my former synagogue in a really long time for a service. I realize that this is an area that super feeds my soul because it is a forced shut down. It makes me leave the cell phone at home and reconnect with my soul singing Hebrew prayers with like minded people and the sounds of the voices are indeed a calming experience. Writing is a spiritual catharsis for me too and it is definitely a grounding reminder to reconnect with my sense of core. So in this upcoming Mother’s Day that itself generates a lot of mixed emotion for me because of my mother’s release of me from her life, I will try this weekend to use this time to regain some spiritual footing. Maybe turning off the computer, the phone and technology for a few days?
FIVE WEEKS TODAY is the catalyst for some type of spiritual awakening or reminder. Since I am feeling so much better physically, perhaps the mental and emotional care will be the focus that completes the incredibly successful healing I have had the pleasure of experiencing.
Godspeed to this attempt.
Old school dial retro phone and an art project that definitely keeps me in soul connection.
I remember when I first found out I was pregnant with my son, Michael, almost twenty years ago. I knew there was this life changing event forming inside of my body yet as I walked, went to work and moved through my world looking normal on the outside no one knew. There were times I wanted to scream out, “I’m pregnant,” with the excitement and enthusiasm of someone holding on to a secret for a little too long and dying to let it out when the time was right.
This past weekend my other Michael and I took a much-needed respite for an overnight to Boston to get back to our version of normal or at least the illusion of normal. To go to the MFA to see the Matisse Exhibit and the Lodz Ghetto Photograph exhibition, to go to our favorite restaurant, to see a movie in Coolidge Corner that is not showing yet in RI. Normal. Hanging out, staying in a hotel, walking the Charles, having some nice delicious glasses of Pinot Noir, and trying to reconnect our lives the way we lived before breast cancer round two as we enter May.
There were the funny moments, like when I realized that I didn’t pack right and my only alternative for a warmer day than planned was a tank top. I don’t even think about bras at this point, wouldn’t put one on anyway since I feel like I have one on every waking minute. Not to rub it in, but I surely don’t need one for support. So when I looked at my new and I guess strangely improved figure in the mirror with just the tank top, to me I looked weird. Michael thought I looked amazing, but when fifty two year old boobs get a super lift, it takes some adjusting. Luxury problems I know, but I stared at the image staring back at me in the tank top and the flashback of my pregnancy came back. It was a similar feeling of wanting to shout out, “Yes, they are fake, but it is because…” This is absurd. I am almost embarrassed to write it aloud, but the fakeness which I am both humbled and grateful for is still a weird addition to my reflection back. I say it aloud because I am fully aware that shit could be so much worse. I am so lucky. But I still want to get the conversation front and center because our realities our simply this. There is always something worse, someone out there who has it worse, but in considering this, I don’t want to go the place of minimizing the angst. The angst is real. Even though I am fully aware of my good fortune, I must allow myself the necessary struggle with the trails of grief this type of life challenge brings about. To minimize the feelings is to subdue the natural cycle and I don’t think this is a healthy place either. So like every emotion, I over analyze its worthiness and try to wrap my head around the idea that every emotion is worthy, every emotion is a tool for growth and because I own them, I must allow them. I must not judge them. This is the perpetual balancing act. I think we all struggle with this concept, that just because our pain, our life challenges are what they are, they are ours. Because of this, because they are owned by us in our own life cycle, the cortisol hormone of fight or flight kicks in regardless of our comparisons to the “shit could be worse” inclination.
I just didn’t feel comfortable walking outside with just a tank top even though I was warm, I felt odd with myself and I wasn’t ready to expose the new part of me yet. Remember these babies do not move, so as I walk and I move, they stay put. For those women out there you may think how lucky that is, but I think the process of this is slower than I had considered. I must ease into this. I realize that the world is not judging me, frankly no one is probably even noticing, but this is really not the point here. I am noticing. I am feeling this change and I need to be ok with the exposure. It is a process, one that I am gradual and patient with for a change.
I don’t know if it is an age thing or if it is a combination of doing “the work” and these are the fruits of my labor, but everyday I wake up I feel like all the little breakthroughs are adding up to a big awakening. The thing is that my struggles with this experience I am also enjoying. Maybe because I get to view this whole cancer experience from the platform of “caught it early.” I don’t know, but what I do know is that its teaching moments are definitely the awareness of how much I have previously judged my emotions, labeling them as good or bad rather than just allowing them as feelings that do not need a label. I am curious about whose voice the judgment voice belongs to. This is the work and if it takes this experience, this event to change its tone, its sound in my head to something different and improved, than this has been worthwhile in the whole spectrum of things. I am challenged by the work it has provided me and I am guessing that “the work” as I refer to it will never be checked off my endless lists that I am often the unforgiving taskmaster of.
I swear I don’t wear this shirt out in public but it definitely has the message I was thinking about.
Is time accelerating now that I am older? How could a month possibly go by at this speed of light? Writing the words, “one month” seems almost like the Twilight Zone as I wrap my head around this timestamp.
Yesterday was my first fill. Actually the appointments are called “Drain and Fill.” Sounds disgusting, and the actuality of it actually is, but it is pretty straightforward. Apparently the drains removed from my back still drain and since they were taken out at the TWO WEEK mark, the reservoir that continues to accumulate must be emptied.
When Dr. M first mentioned this to me, he described the feeling as a waterbed in my lower back. I didn’t feel this the first round last week, but this week I definitely did. I made my way back to the gym again this past Wednesday and as I was jogging, felt this strange sensation that made me have to hold my lower back. I then realized the feeling was the squishy sensation he had described to me. Yuck. It didn’t hurt, but it was definitely part of my awareness. When I went in to the office yesterday, he said the amount was less than the previous week.
In case you haven’t realized, going to the doctor has become a part time job. The assumptions about your availability for any time any day for the follow up visits for this shindig are startling. If you are the type of person who has a Monday — Friday 9–5 job, I am not really sure how you could navigate the job and the Drain and Fill appointments. It is not just the appointment because the actual time is about ten minutes max, it is the time to get there, to get back and the tiredness after. Sherri, the lovely woman at the front desk has to figure out the doctor’s schedule. Bless her because remember breast cancer is BIG BUSINESS and apparently so are tummy tucks, double chin fixes, body sculpting and all other kinds of bizarre body changing we women have been told we must consider to look “better.”
So when Sherri says, Monday at 8:40am or Thursday at 4:40 pm, that ten minutes turns into three hours because even though I can basically see Warwick, RI from my house in Bristol, RI, to drive there is about an hour at that time. Forget about the drive home at the 4:40 time slot because on a Thursday afternoon everyone is headed home too. I am not complaining; I am grateful I have created the life I have to afford the luxury of time. I asked Sherri how many women can not do these appointments at the frequency that they are required. She told me that some women actually lose their jobs because of these appointments. Speechless. I realize I live in a bubble as I considered the women who must decide between a doctor appointment or work or childcare. I feel helpless when Sherri tells me this as I muddle through my own reality of seeing if I can get a different appointment time because of traffic and this makes me feel bad about myself and I know is ridiculous.
I sit there in the office waiting for my appointment with my super cool man who has kindly driven me. My plan, unbeknownst to him, is that he would come into the room with me so the good doctor can take a look at his hand size and this would become the go to measurement for the max boob fill. When I pop this on him in the waiting room after he mention that he wasn’t going to join me when I go in for my appointment, he is kind of horrified half trying to decide if I am serious (I am) or joking (I am not). But of course when I consider his feelings, (we women are supposed to do this in a healthy functional relationship, who knew?), I realize this could be kind of awkward and embarrassing for him. I of course comply with him because truth be told I cherish my healthy and functional relationship and I am totally in love with him and his feelings.
I do though ponder the possibility of taking a picture of them or drawing an outline because I really want my new inflated boobs to fit nicely in his hands. I also do not want to be so big that I look like a bad MILF porn star. Anyway this is where our eighteen year age difference shows its age difference. Or maybe it is just that I am a super open book or rather open gate as I love to speak up, speak out and say what is directly on my mind. I am also spontaneous and truthful and direct. You either love this about me or you run the other way, but it is very much how I live in the world and it takes a strong secure man to be part of this party for sure. He is this for sure. Hands down (or up, however you want to look at it).
I head into the room alone leaving him and his beautiful hands in the waiting room and lie on the table gown open in front as I wait for the doctor to tell me what is about to happen. He is the consummate professional and prepares me with a balance of professionalism and warmth that is a unique character trait and I trust him immensely. He decides on a quantity with the nurse, 100 ml or something like that whatever that means as it relates to your breasts getting pumped with a mysterious fluid ( yes I forgot to ask). As the fluid mysteriously enters the tissue expander I swear I can feel its odd entrance, it is uncomfortable, but I am looking forward to the fun of this new and upright upper body. Kind of like trying on a bright red lipstick when all you have been wearing is nude.
Anyway, when I am all done with this wacky, who the hell thought of this procedure, Dr. M. tells me to try on a form fitting shirt and place my hands over the top of my breasts because this is where the first fluid will mostly be hanging out. To see how my upper body is really going to look, this is the way I need to get a gauge. I realize as I write this that all of this writing about my upperbody is certainly going to lead to the automatic focus from my eyes to my top half when people who are reading this will see me for the first time. What the hell. I am so raw and stripped from this experience that I welcome any glance at this point.
So today, May 5th, Cinco de Mayo is the fun day I try on the form fitting shirt. Today is the day I take a good look in the mirror and decide my boobalicous fate that lies ahead of me this summer. Good problems for sure.
3 week photos by my dear friend, Julie Brigidi. The back looks rough at 3 weeks, but dying from breast cancer is rougher for sure and this is my rawness. The weird black marks are from the frickin surgical tape I finally got off! This will look way better 8 months from now. I saw a woman’s back at that mark and you can barely see the scars. Bodies are amazing.