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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
We drinking chicks love our wine and our cocktails. We love our rituals of choosing the perfect bottle of Proseco knowing that the front porch on a warm summer eve calls us at 5pm for that first sip of sparking delight. What is it about that first sip, the tiny sparkly bubbles headed from your tongue to your throat that automatically cause a big happy sigh? Or a robust red on a cold winter night after a long day sitting by fire recapping the events from work or life with your partner?
For so many women I know, drinking and its box of rituals
have been the norm. We talk about it, we plan around it , we gather together to
imbibe with it. Cocktails take the edge off. Off of what? I don’t know because in
my circle of acquaintances for the most part, the edge we speak of is life coming
at us. Besides the inevitable twists and turns that make up what life is, our
edges our pretty mild.
We, of course, have our struggles, but no one said life was
supposed to be anything less. Struggles are what make us rebound, strengthen and
stand taller. No one wants them, but for a majority of the pain give or take
extreme situations, we usually can look back and say the struggle was worth it.
With the exception of losing a child, or a person in your
life who is far too young to die there aren’t extremes in the world I get to
live that causes a pain so deep one can’t climb the mountain. But this is me.
And most of my friends. We were raised resilient and we power on.
I have had my share of struggles and have had my share of wine. I have quit drinking on more than one occasion and one time I quit for a full seven years. This was one of my proudest accomplishments because it wiped all of the cobwebs from my foggy brain that I didn’t know what foggy and allowed me to think clearly about my future. Drinking puts a (pun intended) cork in the ability for me to flourish and make serious decisions. Drinking alcohol allows me to put off those decisions, keeping them at bay and removing the emotions that sometimes have to come with those decisions. But none of this is even in my radar at the time. I only have this wisdom when I cease and desist.
I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore. – Winnie the Pooh
You know when you have a plugged drain? But before it gets
to the point when you have to call the plumber, you see that the water is taking
more time to leave the sink and go down the drain? You let that happen for a
few weeks hoping that it will miraculously just go down with a few plunges or
some Draino. But we all know that this is highly unlikely. At some point the problem
of the clogged drain will need to be solved or else you simply will not be able
to use the sink. The residues of toothpaste and face cleanser will leave a
circle of film in your sink and the need to clean it will become an almost
daily grind because you didn’t take care of the clog when you first noticed it.
This is what drinking is like for me. I come from a family
of alcoholics as so many of us do because drinking is just so much damn fun. It
is so much easier to pour a glass of gorgeous Brunello instead of sitting on a
mat and meditating. Life is short, right? Enjoy the wine. Fuck all these self
imposed rules and regulations, right? Just eat the cookie and drink the frickin
wine, right? Well not so fast, though I have a lot of friends who can just have
one glass of wine and sip it slowly, this is not my gig. I wish it were. My
grandfather has two glasses of red every single night at five pm. Without fail.
And he is 101. Some people can just have the wine and call it a day. For me, I have
the wine and I want more wine. Then the next day I want it again. And the ritual
turns into a self talk garble and each day I get foggier and less clear about
my purpose. The cobwebs re-enter at a slow barely noticeable pace until one day
a few weeks in, I just don’t feel good. I feel imbalanced and emotionally
unsteady. I find myself questioning my core. I never do this when I am not
drinking alcohol. So I decided the day after my son’s 21st birthday,
that I would apply the one day at a time mantra to giving up drinking today. My friends say, “are you drinking
or not drinking?” Instead of the black and white yes or no, locking me into the
corner, I say instead, “I am not
Because this is true. Today is all I know. And what I know
is that when I don’t drink alcohol I feel a sense of inner power and direction
that allows me to get the creative juice ideas headed in the right direction at
the speed of light. With no detours and dead ends. I feel good, great, better
when I don’t drink. So I am not drinking today. And as life comes at me and the
universe tells its story to me the way it is supposed to I come across the article
yesterday about this “movement,” this new “thing” called elective sobriety because
God forbid everything doesn’t have a branding possibility. Women are
consciously not drinking alcohol and cutesy names are popping up all over the
place. Mocktails. Soberinstagram. Sobercurious hashtags and websites and pop up
gatherings are apparently now a trend. Because in our world we live in, everything
seems to need to be something. But in this case, I wholeheartedly agree. Why do
we feel the need to escape from our luscious brilliant selves? As Glinda the
Good Witch said, “You’ve always had the power, my dear.”
The more we connect with our own true selves and learn who those
selves really are, we march forth rather than stay stuck. Sometimes staying is
stuck is necessary as it is part of the discovery process, but drinking for me
keeps me there. Keeps my foot in the quicksand and the other foot trying to run
So for today anyway, I make my own mocktails, drink my hot
tea by the fire and figure out ways to enjoy the festivities of holidays and
gatherings without feeling the need to mute the edge. Because when my edge is
sharp, it makes cutting a tomato way easier than trying to use a dull blade. I
like the sharpness the gift of not drinking gives me. This alone is what makes
the day be the next one and the one after that. So for today, I try again because
I have always had the power.
This is the article I read that prompted this writing today. Great post. Thank you @Virginia Sole-Smith
scandal continues at every corner I have turned this past week since the
story broke. With good reason, it is a dire and despicable example of
what goes terribly wrong with too much money not used for the right
reason. Despite the plane crashes, the school shootings and the massacre
in New Zealand, these college scandals are still in front of us. This
is serious business, this college outrage. It is indicative of the
layers of entitlement and greed that is nothing new in our young country
or world for that matter.
have an old friend who is almost 97 at this point, walks every single
day, lives on his own with his wife and still drives. He speaks the way
an old Italian man who survived WWII gets away with. A few years back as
we were walking, he said to me in regards to some scandal involving a
politician whose name escapes me, “Anytime there is a scandal it is
because of money or a woman.” I cracked up. Such an old-fashioned way to
put it because I see it with a slight twist. The money and the women
are more often the result of the behavior caused by the person causing
it- usually a man and of course I said this aloud. It fell on deaf ears.
He really didn’t see it this way at all. Now before you think this
essay is headed towards some bra burning male bashing, let me assure you
it is not. I love men, the good ones. And there are plenty of women who
are as guilty of scandal and bad behavior. This is not male centric by
any means. But his notion that scandals were because of the women not
symptomatic is part of the reason I write today.
remember reading The Scarlet Letter in high school and feeling so
outraged that Hester had to walk around with the big A, not her lover
who she protected with a vengeance. Sure the reverend’s identity wasn’t
so obvious, but the female shaming was and continues to be so typical.
The #Metoo movement finally brought some men out into the open for the
parade that women have been walking for centuries and I think this may
be progress? I put the question mark because I am not sure. We have had
many feminist movements in the past century, yet we still struggle for
equal pay, representation in our government and our boards. We still
worry about our reproductive rights and our daughters’ safety if they
choose to go out late at night alone. This is a universal problem- the
double standard of our gender.
I have found interesting in this recent college scandal is the female
shaming. And we barely notice. Why is it that every news story features
photos and names of the two actresses? Any story I have seen or heard
says, “A list of people including two actresses.” Then their names, their photos, the photos of their children and the endless parade of their shame walk to and from court.
Where are the rest of the over thirty peopleand more involved?
Why are their names not in the news? I am not protecting the two women
and their children. Their example is an embarrassment to parenting, BUT so are the rest of them.
If the news is not going to show the lists, the faces of the remaining,
why should it just be the two women and their daughters? Women have
been doing the walk of shame forever, what we wear, what we eat, how we
choose our partners, our sex lives, how we have sex, the way we give
birth, feed our children, choose to work or not work, constantly we are
under the microscope in such different ways than our male counterparts.
In the alanon meetings I have gone to for years, just like AA, the first
step is awareness. Until we are even remotely aware of the imbalances
that the media portrays us in, nothing will ever change. We women barely
notice that there is an imbalance because we are just so friggin use to
it, it is our norm.
refuse to call out the actresses in this essay today until the media
starts naming everyone, showing pictures of everyone involved, not just
two women. I am not protecting them. All you need to do is google college scandal and see what shows up in the search. Two names, two faces over and over again. Once again, the media doesn’t get it right.
As a woman who takes care of women for a living, who employs almost twenty young women in a female centered business, I write today to remind us to start noticing. Just that first step in paying attention and having conversation about how much this happens. Ads that show women in the kitchen, at the washing machine, taking stains happily out of their children’s clothes with great big smiles, men cutting the grass with their John Deere mowers, fixing their cars, the media loves gender pigeon holing. I just turned 54 and in my lifetime I can recall the first time I saw an ad that showed a female doctor. The first time. What came first? Why aren’t we noticing? Our children are watching. This scandal is shocking and sad, but like all bad choices, there are strong lessons to be learned. Let’s start with simply learning that just showing the two female actresses over and over and not talking about the rest is part of the conversation we could be having with our children too. Teachable moments come in all forms. We are having more conversations about why the obvious is wrong, but there is an undercurrent of bias again that is also part of the conversation. Just google it and you will get my point.
“You know this is elective surgery,” Dr. Hottie said to me over two years ago. I love Dr. M almost as much as I love Dr. W. Almost. But let’s face it, Dr. M. is a male doctor and no matter how progressive, how much of a male feminist he may (or may not) be, he is not sitting in the chair across from me with having to make the painful choice of no breasts or reconstructed ones. He is a man. He is also a plastic surgeon and that alone should create a bias in the arena of female body parts.
Though I appreciated his candor at the time, I had four doors to choose from, two of which did not seem like options at all.
DOOR # 1 Do Nothing and Die at some point.
DOOR #2. Have a single breast mastectomy and wear a prosthetic like my grandmother.
DOOR #3. Have double mastectomy with no reconstruction.
DOOR #4. Have a double mastectomy and have reconstruction, (the “elective” surgery Dr. M. referred to back at paragraph one.)
I am guessing if he were about to face having his penis cut off and having no penis or one put on so that when he looked down at himself in the shower he wouldn’t look so different, maybe he would choose to omit the word “elective.” The word elective should not be a choice word anyway, though I appreciate the intent reminding me that if I really consider this as elective perhaps I may choose to be totally flat chested and remove all traces of the very female part of who I am. Call me vain, I don’t care, as I have said on more than one occassion, I like my breasts, I like the shape, the form, the wonder woman activation that a proud set of pointed boobs give me.
I fully understand what he meant now that I am facing the two year mark and though I am not facing the horror show of what I may find if I typed in bad breast reconstruction in the Google search bar, my experience is much more subtle. Subtle in the way I would imagine that my comments would invoke maybe an eye roll or maybe the thought that wouldn’t be said aloud, It’s all in your head.
In the recommendations of drinking celery juice on a daily basis (SEE IS CELERY JUICE THE NEW KALE? for clarity if you are scratching your head here) I found the medical intuitive, Anthony William. Now before you start to want to punch me for even taking the word of someone who calls himself a Medical Intuitive, hear me out. He was recommended by a really credible and incredible Doctor I know and his advice, though not conventional in the least, has some legs because of his vast success. Believe what you want, but last I checked, the medical community as it relates to credible scientific research doesn’t always get it right. Think DDT, smoking, low fat, eggs, dairy, food pyramid, opiates just to name a few pesky mistakes. I like to think I am open to all possibilities when it comes to health, but more often than not, it is the knowledge of my body as my own personal science experiment that informs me.
And I have not been feeling right. Tightness in my upper body, bloating that has changed my lovely flat stomach into something I no longer recognize, weight gain, intense headaches out of the blue, gas, indigestion, joint ache and a racing heart, a little dizziness, a little nausea, sharp pain like cramps that come out of nowhere on the left side of my fake boob and lastly if this is all not enough, washing machine head on the spin cycle, not symptoms I regularly identify with, well maybe the last one. If I had to draw a figure of myself on paper, I would draw a scarlet red rectangle from my upper chest to my belly button. When I am meditating, the image that continues to appear is the middle of my chest opening up and red cardinals flying out of it. Is this all in my head? And more importantly what are my options, medically? I suppose I could beg for MRIs and body scans and go digging for problems. Who wants to live like that? Not me for sure.
I decided to look up to see if Anthony William had any podcasts and no surprise here, of course he did. Lots of them. And as “luck” would have it, I landed on one called “Breast Implant Illness.” I did hesitate albeit briefly before I hit play, yet being a glutton for punishment, I proceeded. Probably not the best idea because Anthony, who by the way readily admits that the information he is sharing is not even discovered by science yet, and claims he is being informed by Spirit, a guide who speaks to him regularly. Roll your eyes here, I know, but you can also see my predicament of having to bring my new information to any doctor. He said something that struck me though so be patient with me and hopefully keep reading.
When there is a foreign object made out of synthetic material such as silicone, your liver sends out an army of enzymes to see what the hell is going on. The enzymes make their way to the implants and latch on looking to protect and get to the bottom of the enemy invader. Because the silicone is encased in some type of material, (I find it amusing that I don’t know the answer to this off the top of my head), the enzymes stay on the shell and this energy coupled with my body heat over time creates a slow porosity in the impants slowly seeping gasses from the silicone into my unsuspecting body. Now for you scientists out there- I have not a clue if there is any medical evidence out there that supports or denies this, but what I do know is that ever since these new additions have been placed in my upper half, I have had under the radar symptoms hard to put my finger on. Coincidence?
When it comes to history as it relates to science and the female body, I am not overly confident in our past. Though birth control has revolutionized a woman’s control of family planning, why is it that it is one of the top three questions I was asked after we discovered the breast cancer the first time? Women have been short changed in the health research department compared to our male counterparts for sure, yet we are so accepting of the words, They are totally safe, when it comes to the due diligence we think we are giving ourselves by timidly asking the question. When Anthony William said this on his podcast, it struck a chord with me and frankly it kind of makes sense.
Boobs are one of those body parts that seem to get a lot of press. When I did a quick google search the CDC only had leading causes of death since 2014, but the number 1 was heart disease and the number 2 was cancer, not breast cancer, but cancer. That is a lot of cancer. Heart disease isn’t sexy, it doesn’t sell lingerie, it is not as innocent and traditionally female as the color pink. Breast cancer gives permission to let the talk about tits and breasts and tatas and boobs out of the bag. When my son was at La Salle, a Catholic school in Providence RI, the kids were all wearing pink rubber bracelets that said I LOVE BOOBIES. This is the same school that took down the picture of our current Governor Gina Raimondo for allowing Planned Parenthood to support her. Mixed messages? I’d say.
Call me crazy, call me hysterical, call me an alarmist, but there can’t be a coincidence that I am having these subtle symptoms. And that when I bring them up, I feel guilty because frankly I am one of the lucky ones, I chose to have implants and I am alive. I didn’t have chemo, didn’t lose my hair, didn’t really worry about dying unless I had chosen Door #1 at the beginning of this party.
I am not a scientist, I have never done research in my life, the last biology class I took was in high school. I fully realize the frustration that real scientists must have when they read these assumptions by lay people like me, unfounded in their own profession. I also know that by looking up regulatory history of breast implants in the U.S. on go to Google, some worrisome history came up relating to long term studies of silicone implants. More interesting is that the silicone implant doesn’t seem to have been studied for any length of time. When I say length of time, I am speaking what I would consider reasonable, more than ten years surely. This timeline in particular and the panels and votes raise my eyebrows. 2005 wasn’t that long ago. Though the implants were introduced well over 20 years ago, is that really enough time to develop a what if this happens, what could happen in the future? What is in silicone anyway? Who are on these panels anyway? Men, women, doctors, pharmaceutical executives? What informs them? All worriesome.
What shocks me here is I never thought to ask. Perhaps knowing all of this would have made me make a different decision, I will never know. But even when I did ask, these subtle symptoms wouldn’t have been given much credence anyway because first of all, I don’t think many women are as in touch with the way their bodies tick and even if they were, there are so many factors that could explain this away. Menopause, empty nesting, emotional changes due to life events, death, divorce, previous thyroid issues, family history, not enough exercise, too much exercise etc. I could also add here the radiation dose I had from my first surgery, goodness knows what that did to my upper insides. After signing away my life in some hospital document that said that radiation could cause heart lung problems later on in life due to its close proximity, I am sure we can add this to the list as well.
Breast cancer is big business. For profit hospitals, for profit pharma, for profit doctor’s offices, what a woman is willing to do to keep the wo in woman is pretty shocking now that I have made that choice. What defines woman anyway. Breasts are certainly only one part of the recipe, but clearly they have been significant enough to warrant all of this writing. I am not sure where this will all take me and frankly I had never considered the possibility of their voluntary removal until I listened to this podcast. For now, I will continue to write and talk and see who writes and talks back. First step is awareness. And for sure these tatas have done nothing except made me aware.
2005 – April
The FDA held an Advisory Panel meeting to review Allergan’s updated PMA and Mentor’s PMA. In a 5 to 4 vote, the panel did not recommend approval of Allergan’s PMA (due to a concern with one style in the application). In a 7 to 2 vote, the panel recommended approvable with conditions for Mentor’s PMA. The panel recommended that FDA require conditions including a minimum age requirement for augmentation and Post-Approval Studies.
2006 – November
The FDA approved Allergan and Mentor’s PMAs for silicone gel-filled breast implants. This was the first time silicone gel-filled breast implants were available for augmentation, in addition to reconstruction and revision, since the moratorium was established in 1992. As conditions of approval, each manufacturer was required to conduct 6 post-approval studies to further characterize the safety and effectiveness of their silicone gel-filled breast implants and to answer scientific questions that the premarket clinical trials were not designed to answer.
2011 – January
The FDA issued a Safety Communication on anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in women with breast implants. Based on a review of the scientific literature, the FDA believes that women with breast implants may have a very small but increased risk of developing this disease in the scar capsule adjacent to the implant.
The FDA held an Advisory Panel meeting to discuss and receive recommendations on postmarketing issues related to silicone gel-filled breast implants. Also discussed at this meeting were innovative methodological approaches to postmarket studies regarding silicone gel breast implants, as well as key long-term safety issues associated with silicone gel breast implants in the real-world setting.
Simmering and hiding in the closet are where all anxieties sit and wait. And Wait. Wait while I drink my cocktails, eat my cheesecake, fry up endless grilled cheese sandwiches on a range of delicious breads and binge watch Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Last week, last month, the last three months, frankly, the free for all that I greatly enjoyed in going south with my health has come out of the closet and begun its bubbling over. This is the direct result of my cease and desist this past week of all fun food and drink. Yes please roll your eyes, (again), total permission. Truth be told, I had to do this. My joints were aching beyond belief, the tightness I felt in my mastectomied reconstructed upper body was causing me great discomfort and the only solution based on numerous prior experiences was to stop the inflammatory insults I was directing at my body.
There is so much confusion over health, what to eat, what not to eat. A glass of wine every day is good for the heart, wine is bad for cancer, sugar causes cancer cells to multiply, meat is bad, meat is good, dairy is necessary for calcium so our bones don’t break off like a delicate shell on a sandy beach, dairy is filled with estrogen so therefore shouldn’t be eaten if you have had estrogen positive breast cancer. Vegetarian, paleo, low fat, full fat, grains and bread, no grains and bread, intermittent fasting or eating every three hours. You go to the doctor for any ailment and are never asked what your diet is like. You speak to a nutritionist or a dietician and your answer will depend on the directive from who their boss might be.
Then there is the internet. And health podcasts and magazines. Everyone has their own take. But where is the science? Like the law, there seems to be broad interpretations of science as it relates to nutrition. After studying on my own for over twenty years, what I do know is that we are all unique and no one food is good for all. What I also know is that when I am not eating certain foods, I have no joint pain, I have reduced tightness in my chest and back and a mental clarity that is unstoppable. Here is what I also know, that the deep dive down the rabbit hole is an excuse to numb out from stress and anxiety-life coming at us in whatever form has vestiges of stress. Just trying to read one article on the internet and getting slammed with five ads in between every paragraph is a form of stress, minor yes, but distracting. This seems like a silly example but pile them up and they are significant. A glass of wine at the end of a day really softens the blows of life, but with my personality, as I have written about on numerous occasions, I am just not a one glass of wine kind of gal. For me it is all or nothing. So when I stop, the simmering pot gets turned up on high heat and boils fast. My heart starts to race, crazy thoughts begin darting and my energy feels unleashed. All part of the detox process that I am completely comfortable with because I have been down this path many times.
The stuff I have been trying to escape or numb out from jumps out of the closet, but the upside is that the joint pain goes away.This in itself is worth the flying monkeys in my head because I know that those flying monkeys only have their power for the first week of my detox, then they head back out to torment someone else. Having a mastectomy and reconstruction, almost two years later, has a set of issues that I hadn’t considered. I have spent the first full year healing and getting used to this new addendum, but now the reality of it is a daily reminder in my back, in my arm and my breasts. I don’t want to feel joint pain or numbness. I don’t want to feel my lower back tweaked every time I do a vigorous workout. I know that certain foods cause inflammation in my body and I know this because I am in tune with my body. Inflammation in my body shows up as heartburn, swelling, bloating, and joint pain. I know that sugar, dairy, wine and pretty much anything delicious causes inflammation in my body. I know this because when I stop eating these items, all of the problems go away in my body. I don’t think this is a coincidence because I am my own science experiment. I am also not willing to give my life over to Big Pharma. I refuse. Many people I know who struggle with inflammatory issues are not willing to give up the foods they love and I totally understand this. It is hard to say pass to the delight that dairy, sugar, bread and wine gives to us. But I also know I feel so fabulous when I am free from the role they play in my life.
January 1 every year is that glorious date that cleans the year before. I mean every day is a new year when I think about it, but there is something about NEW YEARS DAY. That chance to get it right again. It is neat and tidy and filled with hopes and dreams. When I did my reflection on what was missing this past year, I decided it was spirituality. I have definitely been slacking in that department. I am speaking of daily consciousness to a power greater than myself. The While the Coffee Perks meditation has been a glorious awakening for my spiritual self and once that pandora’s box opened, I am jumping in full steam ahead to see what other cobwebs I can clean out of this old soul. It’s only Jan 4, but I am confident that this New Year will be a pleasant one and one I very much deserve.
Milestones, traumatic events, celebrations, births, deaths and everything in between. This is what the closing of one year and the opening of the next gives to me, the unique opportunity to reflect back and look ahead. I like the neatness of the New Year. The cleaning of the house so to speak. Cleaning cabinets, closets, drawers as the outside clean and cleaning out my body as the inside one. Anyone who has read any of my writings has likely been able to surmise that the indulgence of sugar, wine and shopping are my perpetual nemesis.
“Are you drinking, or not drinking these days?” I can hear my friend and workout partner, Morgan, ask me as regularly as if she were asking me what I did last weekend. She knows that if I say yes, this means on. Again. On the wine, on the sugar, on the bread like an ant on a freshly dropped piece of coffee cake. With a sense of wild abandonment that keeps all my friends guessing at what could possibly be wrong or right with this complex organ in my head called alayne’s brain, I move back and forth, zig zagging from complete mental clarity to a Zenith console of static depending where I fall on the spectrum.
I so wish I was the person who could just do everything in moderation, like my grandmother Isabelle belted out on more than one occasion as she watched my on again off again with nutrition. If I did drugs, I would be an addict, definitely. I like the escapism of the first bite of a homemade chocolate chip cookie, soft warm morsels sliding into my stomach. I love the automatic and immediate ease that my blood feels when I have the first sip of a beautiful glass of red on a cold night by the fire. There is a vein calming that takes me away on a vacation without leaving the couch when I am eating sugar, drinking wine or shopping. Buying 28 typewriters like the world was coming to an end this past year would be an indication that I am trying to distract myself from dealing with myself on some level. The question at the moment though that I finally ask is what am I trying to distract myself from? And why on earth would sugar, shopping and wine be the distraction?
I finally came to the realization through my practice of while the coffee perks meditation that I have been one hundred percent focused on for the past month. Every single day no matter what, while the coffee is perking, to the mat, sitting down cross-legged, palms upwards resting on my legs and settling this busy head of mine. Connecting with my heart, my breath, my blood, organs and whatever else is in perpetual high gear unless I am sleeping. Leaving judgment, criticism, and the barking brain at the door along with my shoes. While the coffee perks meditation, without asking, has provided many answers to my non-questions. This is the thing about meditation and mindfulness, just breathing in the moment and using the moment to bring me back when my mind wanders has been enough. This simple quieting has been an asset and I didn’t realize its full power; I had expected something magic to happen, but it has been more just learning to be still. I have found through this that now is the uniqueness and the now part of the experiment is getting more intense each day I get better at this exercise.
While I am busy trying to quiet my mind, the snap crackle and pops of my mind start going off like fireworks, the what ifs, the what was’, the thoughts and ideas. This is definitely why people don’t meditate. That simmering pot of a brain is not used to taking a big chill. It has to be trained to do so. It is painful and uncomfortable when you sit down uncomfortably on a mat to the expectation that this is going to be some happy time. But it passes, the breath kicks in, the heart slows, the mind eventually calms and I am getting better at remembering to find my breath more often when my mind starts crackling. It turns out the crackling thoughts are the gifts of all of this quiet. It is these very thoughts that offer glimpses into the whys of my life.
Why do I feel the need to escape and numb on occasion? Is it possible to just lean into them and not beat myself up like an abusive relationship judging, scolding and feeling bad? It is not just a piece of cake or one glass of wine or one or two typewriters. I wish it were that simple. What I do know from this morning mindful ritual is that this trifecta is deeply connected to the way my mother and I interacted. When things get rough, let’s go shopping, lets have a glass of wine, lets eat some delicious chocolate cookies. This was her way of showing love, like so many other families, food especially is deeply connected to that bond between hearts. For the first time in my life, I am not blaming her, I am understanding her and this feels healing. I like healing feelings; they certainly serve my health more than the opposite, anger, resentment, and frustration.
It should come as no surprise that the more these three facets of this love triangle I was raised with allow me to numb out and distract from whatever feelings, complex or simple, those very feelings lay dormant, in a waiting position. They do not go away. They stay right where I left them, simmering at a low, barely noticeable heat until I make the concerted effort to cease the easy way out. Then those very feelings that have been lying in wait unbeknownst to this unsuspecting chick start boiling up and over. This is the interesting challenge with feelings. One must go through them, like grief, there is no avoiding the pain, there is no stepping around the center hoping to avoid the crack, the crack in fact is where the juice is and where the lessons are.
When I decide to actively walk through instead of stepping aside, I am always rewarded. The reward is not always fun like winning the lottery or getting the first place prize in a contest, at least not during the walk through. This is when it is easier to just avoid the pain and head back to the fridge or to ebay for another happy purchase of a shiny bright red typewriter. My morning ritual is teaching me to be okay with the pain because the pain is not permanent or life threatening. It is just pain. Each time I consciously choose to cultivate my inner quiet with mindfulness, it has become easier for me to settle down into the now of knowing that this too shall pass.
As I embark on my New Year’s resolutions that I don’t need to bore anyone with, I want to learn the roots of my behaviors and try to change them. When I am not drinking or eating sugar, I feel powerful and centered beyond measure. It is like what Wayne Dyer once said in a lecture he gave about his choice of being sober. That his work with his divine connection is inhibited by outside distractions, and to be able to wholly do his work that he was called to do, the connection could not be a rusty one. That always stuck with me as I know this to be true for my personality. It is so much easier to step off the path on to the sugar train because it is immediate gratification. But sugar makes my brain wacked, I have practiced my own human experiment for over twenty years with what happens to me when I am eating sugar. Fun at first, but a few days later, I sink to a low that is not healthy causing me to have thoughts of doom and gloom that is not normally how I roll.
I have had a lot of trauma, but because of my resilience I put on a brave face and march forth often at an emotional price. As I move into my fifty fourth year on this planet headed towards a two year anniversary of hopefully being cancer free, I know that the best way for me to celebrate is to try again, to get back on the horse and lean in to my pains and former crisis.’ There is a rawness and vulnerability to exposing my core to the storms, naked, free. This new year I hope to see what consistency feels like for a change. We only get one chance at this life and all of the good and bad lessons can only be overcome when I tackle them literally head on, learn from them, and feel the power I know each and every one is there to teach.
So Happy New Year To Me and To You. I am happy I get another chance to make it right. Let’s see if I can make it the first week and I hope this inspires you to try out the while the coffee perk meditation. See you on the mat and at the gym. (You know who you are).
Ps. I have decided to add posts on WordPress as I begin to start writing my book. Please follow me here if you are interested. www.alaynewhite.wordpress.com
I am reworking and categorizing all of my writings from my initial breast cancer experience. I will be posting them in chronological order again. I hope they are helpful. Thank you for reading them.
OUR SILENT CAMARADERIE
The television was particularly loud or maybe it was just loud because of the intense quiet in the room. The show was a round table discussion, kind of like The View, five women interviewing a guest female singer speaking about the life revelations she had as she wrote her songs for the new album she was promoting.
“You wrote a song about your mother, can you speak about that?” asked one of the interviewers.
The songwriter began her story with the happy photo of her mother and her looking freshly bonded and renewed. The singer shared how she realized her mother was just a woman like all of us who had her own baggage from her own life she unknowingly brought to her ability (or lack there of) as a mother.
“We are all women with our own experiences,” she crooned. “Once I realized this, I reached a new level of understanding of my mother and I am so teary eyed thinking of our connection now.” The entire table of women all proudly clapped and so did the audience. The positive reinforcement would have made Oprah proud.
I heard a deep sigh from the woman sitting to my left. The woman on the right was occupying herself with emails on her cell phone and the woman across from me was looking a little impatient with the wait. We all sat there, our little tribe of women who didn’t know each other in the semi comfortable green velvet-ish, supposed to look soothing chairs, along with the eight photos of female doctors with their varying degrees and post doctorate work lining the walls like artwork.
We were here in the middle of our workdays and our personal days while the kids were away at college or at school or at daycare. Some women were fully made up, hair coiffed and high heels, looking like they would head back to work after this inconvenient but necessary interruption in their lives. Some were in work out gear or casual clothes, obviously their day off headed afterwards to Whole Foods to stock up on the clean, no sugar, no dairy and organic cart full of food that was supposed to help stop the estrogen flow that caused the first round like mine.
I had already gone in for one round of photos and was waiting for my next appointment with the tech. The woman on the left of me had a super hip short haircut. I was trying to figure out if it was post chemo or intentionally cut this way.
Why aren’t we talking? Why is this silly television show on instead of calming classical music? Why did the singer just happen to be on speaking about this healed relationship with her mother reminding me of the one I didn’t have with my own? Why are the flimsy gowns so flimsy? Why are we so quiet as we sat with each other in our private torture trying to feel relaxed.
The woman with the short hair cut was nervously deep breathing. She didn’t have to actually say anything, I could tell she was nervous, whether it be from anticipation from her first follow up or worry knowing she was there for a concern. I decided to take the plunge and speak to her, “I love your haircut, it looks really hip.” I said. Her hands immediately went to her head. My question broke the silence. “I’m here because my doctor found a lump,” she said. We were all here for some reason. The silence was the heat of our minds stirring with the what ifs. We were comrades without knowing each other’s names or life’s story, just waiting in our too thin too small gowns with the ”opening in the front” ties in the wrong places. Who designed these? At least they weren’t pink. Just sitting there vulnerable and quiet as women mostly in our 50s was enough to link us.
“Silvia?” The tech came and got my short-haired friend and off she went. Meanwhile I waited to be called for an ultrasound after having been already called back for one more detailed mammogram. The waiting was an opportunity to take some deep breaths rather than be tempted to peruse my cell phone pulsing in my bag. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back.
Silvia came back out quickly looking happy and relieved, as the lump was nothing. Yay Silvia. The thought flashed through my mind that my chances of a negative outcome just went up because of Silvia’s good news. Any statisticians out there? Likely there is no basis for this rationale, but it was my first thought post being happy for her. Always happy, always smiling, trying to keep it together so that it seemed like we were playing the roles we have been assigned. Strength, resilient, tough, get through anything. Never let them see you sweat and all of the other memes that have been spoon fed to us in our lifetimes.
“Alayne?” The tech came out to get me for my ultrasound. As I lie on the bed, breasts exposed, I started thinking about how I could improve the experience. Warm towels and blankets for starters. Warm gel squirted, cooling down because I swear they had the air conditioning on. After lots of slipping and sliding and clicking to capture the image, the very kind tech lets me know, “We’re all done, I’ll have you wait here while the doctor looks at these and then she will come back in and speak with you.”
Alrighty then. I got up, wiped myself of the sticky ultrasound goo and lay back down on the bed trying to stay warm and calm as I awaited my fate. I had been in this rodeo two years ago so I was familiar with the possibilities of the doctor’s diagnosis.
When the doctor came in with the sullen expression that doctors have when they have to tell you anything other than good news, I knew it was a repeat. That is the thing about breast exams, there is no happy medium. Either it is thumbs up or thumbs down.
I could tell immediately it was thumbs down as she explained the new spots and that I would need to get a biopsy pronto. I hate fucking biopises. They are worse then lumpectomies of which I am a double fisted seasoned ticket holder.
So much could be worse. This I know. I am the queen of half full. But I have to say that I felt like I was in the movie, Groundhog Day. The pictures she showed me looked almost identical to the pictures of two years ago when I discovered I had early stage breast cancer. Before genetic testing, before learning what the word prophylactic meant. Before.
I left to go back to the waiting room and all of my silent comrades had left or gone to their own appointments. I would never know their outcomes except for Silvia’s, but I knew mine.
As I changed out of my gown, I realized that the unique experience of sitting with strangers in silence awaiting our fates from our mammograms binds us together. Even though we will likely never see each other again, like soldiers from war there is a bound by experience that creates long lasting connection and that only women who sit in flimsy gowns among each other in the middle of their workdays likely understand.
The first time I seriously went to a gym was about 22. The image in my mind is the varying shapes and sizes of the women in the changing room. Modesty, blatant nakedness absent of inhibitions and in between bodies of women of all ages. The locker room of a gym is where you see the vulnerabilities, the insecurities, the confidences and the beauty of women. It is one of my favorite observatories, but it must be done in a subtle way because the unspoken rule is not to glare, stare or gawk. This is difficult. I find the energy of it all such a study of the interesting ways women are.
When I was this age, just beginning my young adult path, the locker room was a wakeup call of what can happen to our bodies as we get into our older years; at 22 this was about 40. At 22 I remember the little girls who shamelessly walked into the group shower with their little bodies staring at the multitude of bodies and vagina hair. I loved the group shower. There was something so uninhibited about the experience of showering with strangers. As I caught glimpses of the older women, it barely occurred to me that one day I would be standing amongst them crown and cape on knowing that I would be them.
The distinction between youth and age is found in the locker room. The scars and the victories show up there. The abuse and the care show up as well as the histories of significant times in our lives. The warrior wounds and the self-care are evidence of the lives we have lived in the rawness of the light of the locker room. For example, tattoos and their placement on the body usually show the era of a woman. Perhaps their tattoo is on the shoulder or the ankle or the hip, all signs of a life change for a 40 something. Maybe it was a divorce, or a death of someone close. A tattoo in this area is a way to give voice to the pain or the changes that are relevant to the event. Tattoos all over the body are often the 20 somethings where tattoos have become a sport with vigorous competition on quantity, uniqueness and color.
There are the children, innocence abounding, smiling, giggling, gawking, starting to feel their worth of their own appearance as they begin the entrance into the constant comparisons of how they think their little bodies should be.
There are the crones with their saggy breasts and their carbohydrated bellies getting out of the pool in their one piece bathing suits and their bras that are more like soldiers in battle holding up breasts that have fed a multitude of children over the years, the hands that have ironed their husband’s shirts and their fit bodies, despite the sag, of tennis clubs and learning to care for their cardio later in life. I am the young body next to them as I was the young body next to me 25 years past. I cherish this tribal experience that has no spoken word.
Yesterday it happened. The transition in the locker room happened. I was standing naked surrounded by 20 somethings and I realized that it happened. The torch was passed to me as I saw a little girl sneak a peak at my shape. The torch was passed as I watched a 25ish girl get ready for her workout with her tight fit oh so perfect 25 year old body fixing and fidgeting her sassy workout clothes as she looked in the mirror more than twice to make sure the snugness was snug in the right places. She hadn’t had a child yet, hadn’t lost a sibling, or a parent, hadn’t had an extra 27 years of sun exposure or had seen the way her hair color would be changing and deciding what to do about it. She probably never had any type of vagina hair as brazillians had been in her generation the moment the first hair sprouted. She hadn’t yet seen the changes that would happen to her body from the varying diets and food stories living for 52 years brings or the changes in her once perfect and firm breasts from surgical menopause and two lumpectomies. The innocence was affirming. Satisfaction of a life well lived with all of its cuts and scrapes as its teacher affirmed the cape and crown well deserved.