Health, self improvement

PHONES DOWN, EYES UP

After a ridiculously fun night out on the town with live music, lots of dancing and three gigantic scoops of ice cream to top it off, the morning followed. And it wasn’t as fun as the night before because the night before also included wine. Needless to say, “Not Drinking Today,” is taking a brief hiatus. Only for a few weeks, though, as the town I call home is July fourth festive almost 24/7 and wine is once again part of my nightly party.

Part of the morning after of the night before, is the morning bathroom. Without getting too detailed, (even I have my standards), I headed in for a much needed bodily function. On the way, I passed by my phone that I had made a conscious effort to leave face down since I woke up, and unconsciously grabbed it to take in with me. I’m guessing here- for the purpose of multi tasking. I can’t even believe I am saying this aloud. Multi tasking in the bathroom? Have I lost my fucking mind? Part of the routine of a night before is to load up on fat and carbs with a fervor. I hopped on my bike to get to the bagel shop at the speed of light and as I was waiting for my order found myself standing next to a woman also waiting for her order. She had her phone on the counter and was scrolling through messages missing the order taker’s repeat question of “What size did you want your coffee?” I finally answered for her, “Medium,” I stated because my waitressing skills from thirty years ago never seem to disappear.

My answering, “Medium,” caused the distracted woman to actually look up and quickly apologize confirming her request for a medium sized coffee. The young girl getting the coffee for this lady barely looked concerned as I am sure this is a regular occurrence at the counter in the morning with all of the sleepy customers ordering bagels coffee with barely a glance up from their phones for eye contact. Have we all lost our minds?

I recently heard a statistic that people are spending more time on their smartphones than television and this number is supposed to keep rising. Besides phones being phones, phones are now our cameras, video recorders, computers, radios, education, movies and television all wrapped in one small little, carry with us all the time even to the bathroom, package of convenience.

People are looking down at a rate that frightens me. From a physical perspective, our heads are perpetually down without moving our heads up and back for the counter balance of our poor necks, and from an emotional perspective, the lack of eye contact and smiling at one another. We are capturing every waking moment of every waking thing as part of our daily routines that is unprecedented in any human experience we have seen in our lifetimes.

What I notice about my own use is how sidetracked I can become in a nanosecond. I am a typically sidetracked person anyway, so clicking and moving around a screen is probably not helpful to my very sensitive brain. I wonder how much all of this bluescreen is negatively affecting my body. When I pay attention to the way I feel, it is usually a bit fragmented and staticky after a run with the screen for too long. Physically, mentally, spiritually, these elements of who I am, are hyper challenged when I am on the screen too much, not to mention the disconnect I feel in this false sense of connection.

I was at the beach yesterday and watched, between the parade of non stop thong wearing booty, hundreds of young people from middle school to college, looking down at their phones as they walked together. It used to be that we just walked the beach with a Dels Lemonade in one hand and the other hand free. Now every single hand has a phone, mostly iPhones, easily each one a minimum of a thousand dollars.

As I left the beach, I walked by adults on this packed hot pre July 4th weekday also on their phones, reading, texting, scrolling, trolling and some outright personal phone conversations like their beach spot was their own private phone booth. It is not. Everyone can hear the one sided conversations. Everyone can hear the bings, the swirls, the dings, tings, pings and every other distracting and inconsiderate noise polluting sound these tiny three by six inch lifelines make. Without so much of a deeply considered thought, we seem to have adopted these machines as an additional member of our families. Phones have taken the place of our time away to be with our thoughts alone.

Daydreaming used to be this pause in our busy lives. Now I find that when I do give myself over to daydreaming, as a thought enters my mind, instead of allowing it to move around the way day dreaming does so magically, I often interrupt its flow with the need to Google an idea.

Here is an example. I was sitting looking at my garden and watching the birds and bunnies forage for food, peaceful and quiet as I nursed my subtle hangover waiting for the bagel carbs to kick in. A question popped into my head. “If I could make a radical change in my life, what would it be?” The desire to sell everything and have a minimal life is always nagging at me. I like the extremity of this thinking. As I begin to consider the small rv I would need to get, I think about my friend’s little van she just reconstructed with a bed and some shelves and how handy she is. This thought leads me to thinking about if I could possibly figure out how to set up my own little space in a van and that lead me to thinking about where I might find someone who could do this for me. My brain immediately thinks, “Google it, Alayne.” And I have to fight the temptation. But like a pint of ice cream in my freezer, the call to Google beckons and I have to work at resisting. This would have never happened ten years ago. I would have just thought about the idea and let it flow the way ideas are supposed to. Then later, when I made my way to my office, maybe if I remembered, I would look up the how’s on the computer somewhere.

Phones have changed our human condition. Humanity has changed and simple day dreaming has become melded with technology where every click, snap, and search feeds the illustrious algorithms of big tech information about us so they can make our lives “easier.”

“Easier” seems to be the go to tagline to get humans to perform like circus animals. I remember when I was a little girl and TV dinners came out right along the time where kids were getting mini black and white televisions for their rooms and their own phones. Getting my gourmet cooking mother to buy a TV dinner for my brother and me took a lot of convincing. She had her standards, thank goodness, in retrospect. I also remember begging my parents for my own phone. It was a big deal when I got one and my father limited the amount of time I could spend talking on it because back then there was no call waiting in the seventies. If my father tried to call, there would be a busy signal and he would not be able to get through. This would not make my father very happy causing the threat of complete disconnection from my new phone. Leverage was what he had and most times I obliged the rules.

As I watch more and more people, especially our young people, with their heads down in their phones rather than a book, as I think about the future of actual television sets and going to the movies as a possible relic in the future, I feel worried about humanity. Will people actually stop trying to capture every moment when they realize they are actually missing every moment?

Humanity and technology is an awkward dance. Like the invention of the washing machine and dryer to make the washing of clothes much easier, we cannot imagine living without them. We have become dependent on their convenience and the thought of going back to using a washboard and a tub to clean our clothing seems ludicrous to our modern American way of life. This is the same with technology now; there seems to be no going back. Our entire lives are on our phones and I am afraid because of this, we must figure out how to co exist and still have human connection beyond a text.

Human connection feeds my sense of well being. I love a good deep hug, a serious sensual kiss, dinner in the garden, a dance on the front porch, spontaneity. I enjoy a beautiful book from the library trying to give my busy mind over to it on a breezy afternoon without looking at my phone for at least an hour. I am finding more and more that this break from technology must be a new habit I have to work on.

I know I do not need a phone by my side at every waking minute. I have to sometimes force myself to remember this as Apple would not want us to ever be away from our phones. I need to remember to look up, put my head all the way back in the opposite direction that it has has evolved into, downward like the pictures of the evolution of humans over time- head bent forward looking for food.

This time though, instead of feeding us for survival, we are looking for the human connection, but what we seem to have forgotten is that it is right in front of us if we would just remember to look up at the person standing right next to us.

AGING, Women

MAN-O-PAUSE

“You definitely need to workout in nature outside, often,” my dear and beloved fitness trainer, Kathy M., said to me after we finished an ass kicking workout yesterday.

We were speaking of menopause. Again. This is the hot, (pun totally intended), topic these days. It seems like every woman I know is talking about menopause. Maybe this is such a hot button issue because we are seeing the benefits of women entering the medical profession over the last twenty years. Finally, we are seeing the results of their influence.

Women are talking about menopause like it is, in fact, something. No kidding. Something indeed. We are actually saying the words, vaginal dryness, out-fucking-loud in daily conversations with other women. Hallelujah!

Nature is my solace for my post menopausal brain. No matter what is happening in my spinning washing machine cycle head, as soon as I go outside and smell the air, I am better. Going through menopause is one thing, but like a mastectomy and reconstruction, it is what happens after the dust settles where the real psycho body and mind shit starts kicking in. This is when we need to be talking and walking. Now.

I don’t mean to keep repeating the obvious, but since my grandmother never said the word, vagina aloud ever, I do so for any woman who lived before me in hot and dry silence. Vaginal dryness, belly bloat, weird crepey, saggy skin that is starting to creep in, cellulite and flab, no matter how many protein shakes and push ups. Seriously, when I smile now, my upper lip seems to stay back before it bounces back. My hair is on speed dial causing a full time date with the morning light and the magnifying mirror I previously vowed complete celibacy to, never mind looking in the rear view car mirror. Wouldn’t matter anyway since I can’t see anymore. I envy when women say, “hair barely grows on my legs anymore.” In my dreams.

Since I now need a magnifying mirror, this comes with its own set of warnings, like the magnification of every brown spot and line that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I just noticed the other day in that unfortunate light that my eye lid is starting to head south, like over my eyeball. Thankfully I have stopped wearing makeup so at least the mascara won’t land on my cheek. My mother taught me good skin care early on, and I actually listened, since moisturizing regularly has certainly paid off. I have pretty good skin, but since this has been my profession, I suppose it better be good.

Then there is the sitting in my beach chair and looking down at my stomach that belongs to some other woman. Where did the rolls come from? And I am not talking rolls because I am overweight. I am just speaking of my skin that now just rolls. How and when did they arrive? I swear, five minutes ago I was strutting around in a bikini, a real bikini, not a tankini, not a skirt, and now I am here at the beach thinking maybe my two piece life is actually really over for good.

I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with a foot or a leg cramp that jolts me out of bed reminding me that I need to be more regular with the magnesium. Then there are the conversations about all of this happening like we chicks are the first ones to ever experience any of this, (of course writing about all of this doesn’t warrant talk about flowers and shopping, I get that). Well, we are surely not the first, but we may just be the first to actually say it loud and proud, like it is some badge of honor instead of some hysterical Freudian hallucination.

I look at the young mamas with their babies and fifteen hundred dollar strollers prancing around with their latte in the cup holders that now come with said strollers. They walk with their phone in one hand adorned with their athletic wear like having a baby these days is some type of fashion show. I am so happy I am past that point of no return. Way too much technology these days distracting these parents from the present moment. My friends and I can’t help but live in the present moment of hot flashes and night sweats that came without warning taking over our bodies. And our minds.

Sometimes I don’t even know how my brain works each day. I am thankful for nature, meditation, working out, and connection. Connection is what keeps me sane these days. Connection with myself, my body’s new reality, and my friends and family. (And wine, but more on this later.) This is all we have. And we, in our circle of fifty something chicks, seem to be realizing this wholeheartedly.

This is the good part of menopause, it reminds me with each and every flash to wake up, pay attention, that time is moving along and I might want to start that bucket list or project I have on my endless to do list. (To do lists becoming more necessary because of the memory lapsing that I will add here as another end result of menopause.) Better yet, as Arianna Huffington said in a great interview, “You can also just simply take the to do off of the to do list and call it a day.” Amen. Just saying that feels liberating.

Instead of calling it menopause, maybe we should call it, Man, do I pause. Because if menopause has taught me anything, it is to pause. It is to take notice and realize that these hot flashes, that have finally slowed down, are to remind me that I am ready for the next phase. No more babies, no more adolescents, college graduation looms large this upcoming year for my only child and I am realizing that have my whole life ahead of me.

Man, do I pause, because the only person left standing is me. I get to choose the next part. I have my man, sure, but I am solo by choice in the sense of decision making, life ahead and wonder and creativity abounds. This is a great time to pause. I am done here, but not there. The there is next. Let’s just hope for a little moisture in the there, is that too much to ask?

Lines, greying hair, white hair in my eyebrows, man-do- I-PAUSE.
AGING, NATURE

THE MAGIC HOUR

“No, I will not look at my phone. I will not look at Facebook,” I said to myself on this early morning. I use my phone to listen to podcasts before I go to bed and for the clock when I arise. It seems as if everywhere I look these days word is out that keeping a phone charging by the bed or anywhere in the bedroom should be off limits as it impedes sleep.

My sleep is seldom impeded unless there is a full moon or I have a crazy dream. The phone is always turned over so there is no blinking blue light getting into my pattern. I also never have my phone on for sound, so consequently, I never hear a ring, a bing, or a swish or any other cell phone sound that is part of what seems to be a fully accepted surround sound wherever we are.

Today, though, I woke up with a circling brain- scattered thoughts, hard time concentrating. Maybe the phone by my bed is causing this and I should buy an old school clock. Maybe I don’t even need a clock anymore since I wake up with a, no pun intended, alarming regularity. Five, five thirty, sometimes four, occasionally six, seldom seven. For my whole life, since I was in ninth grade, I have never been a late sleeper.

The morning is my magic hour.

Without my morning time, I lose my balance. As a matter of fact, now that I think about this, I have unconsciously designed my entire life around keeping my mornings sacred. I am fortunate- lucky, some people would say, that I have this glorious option when I wake up.

Should I work out, go for a bike ride, write, tinker in the garden, sit, or listen and stare at the world? This is not luck, this is choice. I have built a business to support my life and my lifestyle. Owning my own company for almost twenty years has given me this ability to control my own way I spend my time.

This is ironic in some ways because being a business owner usually means that work is 24/7. No question. I am always working. At least my brain is- there is no luxury of locking up at the end of a day, walking away and not thinking about the job. But even when I had “a job” I thought about work. I always had owner brain which is why I likely turned into a business owner.

But this writing today is not about work; it is about the morning, that magic hour of five — seven am. When sounds are just nature, not traffic, only car doors opening and the truck engine of my neighbor starting so he can leave for work. The morning is the routine of my day which is about the only stable routine I follow. Wake up, take some slow deep breaths, open the curtains to take a peek at the weather, head to the bathroom for some teeth brushing, face splashing and moisturizing, throw on my old lady clothes consisting of a gardening dress, a Life is Good tee shirt, socks and Ugg clogs, no fashion show here, but pure fifty four year old, live alone comfort. I then make my way to the kitchen to start the coffee. Most mornings these days I make myself sit on the pillow and meditate while the coffee perks, but today, the sounds of my yard were calling me.

I poured my coffee in my new favorite mug given to me by a new favorite friend and made my way to my garden to greet the new blooms with a big happy “Welcome!” I talk to my entire garden. “Hello!” I joyfully exclaim to each of the plants that are my old friends. “Good Morning!” to any plant that decided to bloom for my personal pleasure. I walk around the garden noting what is in need of some assistance. Some of the lavender and thyme I planted last year is struggling. “I must trim the dead wood,” I say to myself, always having a checklist popping like rice crispies. Owning a magic kingdom from 1865 commands a perpetual checklist. Worth every bother most days, though, when I am able to allow patience to prevail, a constant source of work and pleasure.

The fragrance of the morning blossoming honeysuckle puts me in a trance. The rose bush each year that, according to my eight four year old neighbor, was planted over sixty years ago, is blooming like it is coming of age and just discovered its own beauty. My forty packets of zinnias and cosmos I threw cares to the wind and sprinkled like fairy dust are popping up everywhere. No systemic gardening design now, just wild color everywhere is my hope for August if all goes as planned.

All goes as planned…. What does that even mean? Planning is all I have ever done. I never tire of planning and crafting ideas and parties in my head. But nature is the counter balance for this busy spirit. Without it, I would be way off the rails instead of just partially a little wacky.

I stand in my gravel driveway after inspecting my pots of zinnia sprouting like magic. I look up to find the song sparrow singing to me again as she does every single day like clockwork, happy to have her serenading me. I listen for my familiar cardinals and as I look up, I see five or six seagulls headed towards the sound of a motor boat on the bay likely a quahoger out on the water at his job, hoping for some free breakfast. (Not the quahog, the seagulls). I look towards my bright fiery pink roses starting to wind down, wishing I had planted more, and notice out of the corner of my eye, one of the two baby bunnies that now reside on my property.

I stand as still as a mannequin. I watch, thinking for a brief moment that if anyone saw me at this moment, they may think I have lost my marbles in the get up I have the balls to stand outside in. I notice the petals of the roses that have fallen to the ground and watch the bunny sniffing them. She then takes one in her mouth where I am sure she will realize it is not the food she was looking for and spit it out, but to my luscious surprise, she eats the entire petal. Then another and another. My thoughts are this. “She likes the taste of rose as much as I do!” followed by, “I am so happy I didn’t let Mike, my landscaper to spray round up in my driveway.”

This is what i call self confidence.

I watched for a few more minutes appreciating the stillness of this magic moment and thought how happy I am that the honeysuckle’s aroma this morning traveled like the swirl of a magic Genie coming out of her bottle the way Barbara Eden used to in I Dream of Jeannie back in what seemed like a simpler time in life.

Nature in the morning is gift that so many pass by and take for granted. Just a brief stop to smell a rose blooming or taste the smallest drop of the sweet honeysuckle on the way to the car to work can be a day changer. We are running and running. Nature is our excuse to stop and smell the roses. Let’s do this. #Timetolookupindeed.

6am. yep.
NATURE, WOMEN'S HEALTH

IF I DIDN’T

I decided to head out for a walk on Friday morning instead of the gym because I was reminded while reading information by a new practitioner I just met. She wrote about the equal importance of outdoor fitness- connecting with nature and your body- along with gym workouts. I know this to be true because there is nothing like nature to settle my overactive brain. Working out at the gym does this too, but in a much harder way. The vigorous pounding and accelerated heart rate, literally, beats it out of me.

Nature is the opposite; it is settling, calming and acts more like a slow, steady paddle on a calm morning. It is the yin to my souped up yang. Souped up yang as my heart lately has been racing, my brain has been in overdrive and all of this leaves me with feelings of inadequacies and not good enough thinking that makes me feel super shitty.

Is it the full moon? (yes), the approaching intensity of the glorious summer solstice? (yes), is it the fast approaching seventeen year anniversary of being in business? (I hadn’t thought about that, but YES). Yes to all because I can feel a big, bad ass shift happening, but I haven’t figured the ‘it’ out yet. Me and not figuring ‘it’ out is an awkward dance that creates undo stress. I don’t like not knowing. Which is exactly why I am here. Not knowing is where I am supposed to be and this is something I definitely know.

Ironic. My grandmother would say, “Alayne, sometimes no decision is the best decision.” I don’t know why this gives me an immediate sense of comfort, but it does. I bring the need to make decisions on in a way that causes pressure on this overachieving mind of mine. This is the challenge of a creative soul, for sure. Always moving and shaking and if things are not moving and shaking, well, then I must move and shake them.

So the counter balance is to cease and desist, not completely, but to use nature as my guiding light as the opposing force to settle my ass down in a chair and stare. To walk on a path by the water with no phone and no companion except my beating heart and my Serena strong legs to propel me along the beauty I get to call my place on this earth.

The first step is usually the one that causes me procrastination for no apparent reason other than the call of my house. Writing, cooking, typing, organizing, working, are all little parts of the why I may not always make time to go for that casual stroll alone, but I did anyway.

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen an elegant shimmery white egret fly over me, full spread wings, headed for his landing pad of the harbor. The sound of his movement was what caused me to look up and stop in awe to watch. While I was looking up, I heard the familiar sound of the Osprey who has the prime real estate address of Poppasquash Rd. in Bristol, Rhode Island with his family and saw him carrying a fish. What a sight! Like the sounds of cardinals, I can always recognize the Osprey’s high pitched whistling sound. This is a rewarding lesson that keeps giving as their majestic wing span soaring over my house is a sight to behold.

If I didn’t take that walk, I wouldn’t have noticed the baby bunnies foraging for food, looking so vulnerable as they learn the ropes of finding nourishment. I wouldn’t have had the conversations with my friend, Greg down at the harbormaster’s office as I passed by on my way towards the path along the water about the new ferry service from Bristol to Newport to Providence. I wouldn’t have picked up the schedule to learn the times that it runs and subsequently made plans yesterday to head into Providence on the new ferry service. This led me to be part of the all inclusive and heart warming welcoming to all who come in peace, Pride Fest. I found my way to a brand new vegan, but you would never know it, restaurant called Plant City.

On my walk, I saw people out doing the same, business owners getting their storefronts ready for business. I enjoyed the rich aromas of the glorious seaside town I get to call home and feel and hear my heart beating because of my pace. I felt the bay air and wind through my hair and on my skin as I got a nice sweat going from the speed in which I am privileged to keep my legs moving forward with. My olfactory system would have not smelled the beginnings of the summer roses opening, coupled with the aromas of flowers, herbs and freshly cut grass as the good people of Bristol are in their happy place, getting their homes ready for July 4th.

I wouldn’t have noticed the bird with the bright red breast and the grey head on the top of the pillar on my front porch after my walk was complete as I took the time to sit there with a nice cup of coffee. I had never seen a bird like this and though it pained me to break from my trance of just simply admiring without having to take a picture, I went in to my house and got my phone to capture him or her. It wasn’t for posterity as much as curiosity and being able to remember the description so I could find out what bird this was. She let me take a picture almost posing and we had a lovely connection before she flew away.

This brief encounter caused me to open up an Audubon bird book collecting dust on my shelf that some dear friends of my grandmother had sent as a gift to my son. I spent a half hour looking for a picture of this bird to no avail. a few days later, I walked next door to ask my bird loving friend, Dottie, and she didn’t know either. This caused me to head yesterday on my quest to find out the name of this bird to a new favorite spot, The Redwood Library in Newport, RI to look for some bird books and see if I could get to the bottom of this little sweet bird’s name. I couldn’t find a picture that fit the exact description, but while perusing the shelves, I come across a paper thin book of poetry by Audrey Silcox, a poet who lived from 1890–1944, she died at the age I am now. This was next to another book by Ruth Whitman called The Testing of Hannah Senesh. Hannah Senesh was a famous heroine of WWII who was captured after parachuting into Yugoslavia because an informant turned her in. She was executed after spending nine months in a concentration camp at 23 for trying to save her Hungarian Jewish friends and family.

This book of poetry captured my attention and I became so ensconced in the writing that I ended up sitting there for two hours to finish it. Yesterday at the library was like a live version of internet surfing except I was sitting in the sunlight at my back in a comfy old dark green leather chair with the only sounds being the crinkling of the opening and closing of library books instead of the tapping of the keys and the bings of text messages at every second.

I know that the actual reading of a real book of poetry, a real walk in the rain on the way home with my umbrella that my partner reminded me to take and the time it gave me to be myself was significant for my health. I don’t know the science of why, I am sure there is science, but I don’t really need this because I go with the feeling. Surfing the internet vs being in nature gives me two completely different feelings, the latter always soothes, awakens me from my slumber and calms that nothing else can compete or compare with.

If I didn’t go outside for that forty minute or so walk a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known what I might have missed, but I didn’t miss anything because I said yes to me. I walked and glided along and kept the promise to myself to get outside and enjoy the day. All of this nature took me on a weekend journey I hadn’t anticipated, but I allowed its guidance.

Nature never disappoints and it always rewards me. I don’t know why I would even procrastinate ever again. Though I didn’t find out the name of the bird until I texted the picture to my friend, Julie, who knows all things birds. I realize the irony of this and what humbles me is that, perhaps, I can allow room for both. Nature and technology. There are some time saving aspects to the brilliance of the Google search, for sure. I just have to make sure that I am in the drivers seat instead of letting it take me for the ride of incredible time wasting- looking down, missing what’s up.

The cardinals were with me on almost the entire walk this past Friday, egging me on, telling me that this is always the best remedy for a busy mind. My life and my brain is calmed, my world feels better and I am ready for my day. All because I did instead of didn’t. And by the way, the bird according to Julie is a house finch. “Yep, that’s a lovely little house finch,” she texted back. “They’re beautiful color and have the best song. They’re common, but really special.” #luckyindeed.

Breast cancer, life lessons, Women

DECONSTRUCTION OF RECONSTRUCTION

I look in the mirror and I am unsure of the image staring back at me. It has happened; my body is shifting in a way that despite the workouts there is a reorganization of sorts happening. I did not see this coming when I was in the decision phase of replacement parts for the breast tissue that would be removed. I say breast tissue because I have learned that this is really what a mastectomy is. It is a scooping out of all of the stuff that makes your breasts stare back at you and in need of a bra. If it were anything other than this, the skin would not be there and the breast surgeon keeps this so the plastic surgeon has the shell to work their magic on. This is why saying, take them off is incorrect. Scoop them out is more like it. But that sounds disgusting compared to take them off, so take them off seems to be the go to phrase.

This is what they did with me. Worked their magic so that when I woke up from my surgery two years ago, I would get the joy of having something similar to what was there before. It seemed like a great idea at the time. So much so that I never considered the alternatives as I wrote endlessly during that time how much I liked my breasts. And I did. And I do.

Sort of.

The reason, (that seemed obvious at the time), I chose reconstruction was that I didn’t want nothing. I never even imagined this as a possibility because I just couldn’t see myself with no boobs. I had a definite identity with them; they defined my shape, my femininity, my sexuality, my sensuality. When the doctor was reviewing all of the bells and whistles that make up a successful reconstruction surgery, listening to the details of this was not my priority. This is shocking to me in retrospect, since I am the annoying woman at the grocery store analyzing every label, driving endlessly to all of the specialty stores to buy bio dynamic wine, but I can understand why. At the time there was so much going on in learning how to remove the cancer, that the removal and replacement distinct details of post surgery were almost insignificant.

Getting diagnosed with early stage breast cancer twice in a two year span ensured my mental focus on removal of all things cancer. I didn’t ask the detailed questions about the silicone that would soon be replacing the real live breast tissue or the long term effects of having fat liposuctioned from the lower part of my abdomen so the breasts would have a more natural shape. I didn’t ask why this would even be important down the road and what it would ultimately do to my very flat stomach. Because honestly, life vs keeping my flat stomach was really not in my radar as a priority. Seems silly to even write it, frankly.

Let me preface the remainder of this piece today with the full realization that I am talking cosmetic surgery. I am aware that I am alive, that a simple mammogram saved my life twice and two years later I am a happy chick. I am humbled and am deeply grateful for the experience and the survival. I am not supposed to complain about these weird post observations. I am supposed to be happy I am alive and it feels selfish that I speak out about this. But this is typical of women’s issues. There is this unwritten law to not complain, to not speak up and out, to instead smile and be grateful. This is why this is a struggle to write about the reconstruction experience two years later. I don’t want to complain and sound like I am anything other than thankful for being alive. At the same time, I am starting to see the post surgery for what it really is and the impact that it has on my body.

I hesitate in even writing this because of all of the friends of people who were just diagnosed reading this and thinking immediately, “I have to forward this to my (insert female name here) right now since she is just getting ready to go into her surgery tomorrow and she needs to read this.”

Please don’t forward. This won’t be helpful. It will just create stress and confusion for an already stressed and confused time. Elective cosmetic surgery is already loaded with guilt ridden thoughts. It is saying aloud that I care a lot about how I look to the world and to myself and whether you choose to do reconstruction like I did, or you didn’t (like sometimes I wish I had) the choice is one you get to literally live with. My plastic surgeon doctor said on more than one occasion, “Alayne, remember, this is elective surgery.” This always cracked me up because it wasn’t him sitting opposite of me deciding whether or not he wanted his penis cut off and not replaced or replaced. Easy for him to say.

right after reconstruction hard to believe this was two years ago. holy time travel.

The getting used to part of reconstruction is that weird paragraph left out of the conversations in the intensity of planning a mastectomy. In reflection this part would likely not be helpful at the time, but now seems, in hind site seems like it would have. That is the learning curve of hind site, isn’t it? This is all a fantasy world that I live in though, because no matter how much anyone tried to explain the part about living with silicone implants as a new tenant in my body, nothing anyone could have said would have prepared me for the feeling of them. No conversations, no analogies, no sharing of stories from other women who have them. Implants from reconstruction have to be experienced to really appreciate what I am talking about.

They are not bad, they are not good, they are just there. Living in my body reminding me that I am here and this is good. They are also reminding me that there is always a chance I won’t be and I suppose this is good too. The possibilities of not being here create a sense of urgency in my soul though that can often debilitate me into freezing on decisions instead of moving at the speed necessary to get the plans of action done in a time before the next thing comes at me.

The post time of reconstruction surgery is when the conversations need to be happening. This is when the dust has settled and there are no more frequency of doctor’s appointments to feel like someone cares about the trauma your body just went through. We are numbers in the world of reconstruction unless there is a problem or another diagnosis, we are on our own to figure out what all of this emotional roller coaster of feelings is about.

I am lucky. I have many resources. I know how to talk, to write, to take care of myself and my needs and I have the means to do this. There are thousands of women who don’t. Who are struggling with these rocky and uneven paths they have found themselves on and don’t realize they are not alone. GloriaGemma.org, in Rhode Island is a worthwhile and deeply authentic source. My new friend, Kristen Carbone, has just started a website for this very dialogue, brilliantly.co, because she chose to have preventative surgery and, she, too, realizes the need for conversation.


What I do know is that we need to talk about this. Often. Problems or no problems. Choosing reconstruction or not choosing it. Boobs are getting scooped out left and right, silicone is getting placed inside our bodies with a vengeance and as more and more women say yes or no to this, we need to stick together and TALK. Just to be sure that what we are all experiencing is moving up and out and not going down and under. Down and under creates stress. Stress creates cancer and we all know we don’t want any more of that.

AGING, Breast cancer, Women

THE AGING PROCESS

“Never get old,” the lovely woman with the kindest eyes and smile announced to me as we both found ourselves in the bra section of Target this past week. I was not really in the bra section, but the pajama bottoms I was looking for happened to be neighbors with the bras and underwear. A double mastectomy and reconstruction removes the need for the bra section.
The woman was one of those older women who was sprite and active, but as I watched her stand in front of the rows and rows of bras looking overwhelmed, she gave me pause.

“I’m ninety-five.” She said this as so many aging people do, stating their age to get the desired reply of, Wow, you look amazing. This woman did look incredible; in fact any woman out shopping alone at the age of ninety-five, as spry and together as she was, deserved the compliment. 
“Too bad you don’t live in Florida,” I said jokingly, “I could fix you up with my 102 year old grandfather.” She didn’t hear me and had already moved on to the sales girl who was trying to help her with the utmost patience and kindness. Go target sales girl, go.

I was reminded of the old time place my grandmother used to go to called Jean Belson in Boston back in the day when women actually got fitted for bras as a normal part of their lives. Before pushups and wireless took hold of our breasts and rib cages. This lovely lady looked like the type of woman who would have used stores like that, but now realized that this was a thing of the past for the most part and found herself in Target. Why she would even be buying a bra from my hippie chick perspective as I watched her astonished me. Ninety-five should be a free pass to go bra-less always, but this woman wasn’t that type of woman who would even consider this, I imagined. I was guessing she had outlived her husband as so many women her age have and was just trying to keep herself active and busy. Buying bras on a random day was another thing to do to occupy her time and have a purpose for her day. She looked like she was there solo, so I am also guessing that she is still driving.

The aging process comes out of nowhere. One minute you can’t imagine ever talking about aches and pains and the next minute you find yourself talking about your next doctor’s visit for some test they want you to have because of indigestion. These kind of discussions used to drive both of my grandmothers crazy. I can still hear my grandmother Isabelle telling her brother Eddie, “When someone asks you, Eddie, ‘How are you,’ you just say, ‘Fine;’ people don’t want to hear your belly aching.” Isabelle could not tolerate going out with her peers if they only spoke of their next doctor’s visit. She used to say that there were so many world events to discuss, why would people want to complain about their health issues all the time?

Aging sneaks up on you. One health scare, one surgery, and you are catapulted into the world of mortality. Life becomes shorter, more urgent, and you find yourself thinking Life is short with a vengeance. It starts with your eyesight. You need reading glasses all of a sudden. Next thing you are at the doctor’s office for a routine exam and your blood pressure is a little higher than normal or your blood tests came back with your cholesterol or sugar a little peaked. “We’ll keep an eye on this,” you hear your doctor say in the follow up phone call. This, of course, is code word for if you don’t get your shit together, it’s pharmaceutical time. There seems to be a pill for everything these days and many of the people I know are taking them with barely a question about the long term effects.

To each their own, though. Diet and exercise are barely talked about as a remedy for anything these days and even if one finds themselves in a doctor’s office where the doctor is recommending this, the patient would have to listen and take action where a pill seems so much more convenient. I get the temptation and another great part of aging is I have removed myself from the high horse I used to ride in lecturing people about the alternatives. Who the hell am I anyway? I was diagnosed with breast cancer twice in four years, so I surely have no credibility when it comes to preaching health and wellness equaling health and wellness.

The aging that is happening to me, as this fifty-four year old chick, is more subtle. I can hear my sixty-nine year old friends saying, “54? You are just a babe in the woods, just wait.” But the subtleties are making their way, inviting themselves to my body without being asked and the process is an interesting one. Frankly, this all started with my surgeries. Surgical menopause at fifty to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes as preventative measures created symptoms of rapid fire hot flashes. I got through those, but now four years later they have turned into accelerated hair growth, not on my head, and bloating that is no joke. Everyone said it would happen, but I never thought it would. Besides the physical (and, I realize, completely cosmetic and superficial), there is the psychological whirlwind that has made me reconsider my life going forward.

What do I want? What do I need? What do I care about? What is important? And toggling between blowing all cares to the wind thinking that maybe my life is shorter than most and the what if I do live as long as my grandfather? When I meditate which has become almost a daily occurrence these days, the still small voice is getting louder with all kinds of messages about my future plans. Louder and louder giving me ideas about minimizing all my accumulations, like do I really need two shelves filled with Wonder Woman paraphernalia? Marie Kondo would have a field day with me as recently she seems to be the go to gal for all things declutter. I know what I need to do and it is extreme. This is how I roll though, all or nothing. I fantasize about not only removing half of my crap, but more so lately all social and technology. I was going to make a list of all of the technological distractions both mentally and financially, but part of me simply doesn’t want to know how much money and time I am wasting my life away on.

My precious life. My iPhone recently has gotten in the habit of letting me know at weeks end how much time I spent on all things phone and it is pretty frightening especially if I add it up over a life time. Time wasting used to be television time, but these days the world has their heads down and there doesn’t seem to be any going back to the ‘good old days.’

Aging is part uphill, part downhill and for the most part it is thrilling. The days, recently, that it hasn’t been is when I look down and see a bloating stomach and can’t attribute it to anything, or the rush to the bathroom because holding it isn’t what it used to be. Damn I wish I had listened to the Kegel advice from the old Cosmopolitan magazines when I was in my twenties before babies. The hairs sprouting, the wrinkles appearing, the interesting things happening to my neck all make for the best part. Looking at the young girls and knowing that that lovely ass and smooth wrinkle free skin is a fleeting moment in time for everyone. No one gets out alive, no one doesn’t age unless they don’t get out alive. I enjoy watching youth as much as I enjoy watching aging. Both give great gifts of reminders of the past and the time travel to the future.

For the most part, I am great. These new boobs have been mostly smooth sailing as I haven’t had the challenges so many women who decided to reconstruct have had. The horror stories are abundant, but in my case I had a perfect experience. The downside is that they are here with me and I know they are not part of my organic makeup. This makes them constant reminders of the past keeping that inner voice talking to me about plans of action for what and who I want to be when I grow up. This time though, growing up isn’t as far away as it used to be.