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.

Breast cancer, Health, Women

MY BOOBS IN HINDSIGHT

“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. 

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maybe this shirt will read, yeah their fake the real ones tried to kill me and the fake ones are too. I hope not.

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. 

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a chick has to laugh, right?

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.
2011 – June The FDA issued an Update on the Safety of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants. It included preliminary results of the post approval studies Allergan and Mentor were required to perform as conditions of their silicone gel-filled breast implant 2006 approval.
2011 – August 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Breast cancer, grief

A LONG STRANGE TRIP

Surrender- Giving up what we think should be happening for what is actually happening.

-McCall Erickson

When my insides used to feel discombobulated on occasion, I would run through the usual suspects and review from the day before. How much wine did I have? What sugar did I consume? Is it a full moon? Is mercury retrograde? Am I getting my period? Though the latter no longer applies (at least there is one good gift of breast cancer and preventative surgery, there has to be something good from all of this hell). Once I would run through this dictionary of possibilities, there it would be. I could check off at least one if not two or three of the list that summarized alayne’s brain and feel at peace immediately knowing that the frizzle in my brain would calm down when the items listed passed. Sugar and alcohol would leave my body, the full moon would move on and mercury’s retrograde I would just have to suffer with.

Knowing my body and my mind and what makes it all tick has been a major science experiment for most of my adult life, but even more in the last ten years. I enjoy exploring all of the different forks in the road that cause my mind to wander and dart at a perpetual one hundred yard dash. This is all part of the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of who I am and after fifty-four years, I finally understand and embrace its strong force of power. More apparent in my on again off again drinking or not drinking daily date with a big glass of red something or other, is the off again. When I am off, all of the shit that delightful glass of Barolo edged out comes raring out as if a damn just broke loose.

“Maybe you’re finally grieving,” my beloved Dr. W. said as I was pouring my heart out to her last week at my check up. I had just told her that I was exercising regularly, meditating every day without fail, writing like Charlotte Perkins Gilman as if I was locked in a room with Yellow Wallpaper. I am living closer to my insides and my truth as I have in my entire life. So why do I feel fragmented and lacking elation as I normally do? And as I was pouring said heart, I was feeling almost a tad embarrassed about what seemed to be my personal pity party. After all, I am alive. There are so many worse cases. I felt almost guilty loading on her. I may have even apologized. Yep.fullsizeoutput_e7

Ahhh blasted Grief. Grief is that vaporous trouble that permeates your heart without ringing the doorbell.  As I considered her comment for a moment, I realized that this question was likely the answer. My personal experience with breast cancer as I told her is that I was lucky in the overall collective of possibility. I compared the emotional part of my experience to a classroom. Let’s say there are twenty kids, two or three who are completely self-sufficient, smart, get their work done on time and the remainder of the kids need lots of extra attention. There is one teacher so she usually, human nature here, lets the ones that are ok do their thing and focuses on the outcomes of the class as a whole. Naturally, she will lean toward helping the underlings.

In my case, I was the self-sufficient one. My experience was physically OK. So I marched forth as I do, as most of us do. Checking tasks off of my list, crossing the t’s dotting the i’s and relying on my resilience to get through the emotional scars that were planted. Despite the fact that the physical part of this experience healed and I didn’t need as much support from the powers that be, the emotional and mental scars stayed behind simmering in wait unbeknownst to me. Until I was ready to let them open up and begin the healing process, trauma and grief don’t know the difference between a lot of pain and a little pain. They still cause the same stressors on our emotional selves. When the locomotive train of moving forth slows down, and it definitely needs to at some point, this is when the opportunities for healing arrives. And as the wisdom of hind site as taught me over and over again that there are opportunities in the awareness, I still forget that I must go through, not step around, not ignore, but return to the rink and wait for my opponent to arrive.

WAKE UP! The conductor bellows out as the train arrives at the station reminding the sleepy traveler it is time to depart from the long trip. And what a long strange trip it has been. There is the DURING part. The part when you are trying to get to appointments, learn as much as you can about this new life challenge you are about to embark on. There are the conversations, the hospital, the after of everything. While the physical is out in the open getting better every day, the emotions are left unchecked because frankly the Doctors who were in your ring during the fight are thinking you won so they are on to the next fighter getting them ready for their battle. Besides, your outward appearance is strength, toughness, marching forth. You are the kid in the classroom who doesn’t want to bother the teacher with double checking your spelling because spelling comes naturally for you or you can just look the word up in the dictionary.

Mental health, as we are learning more and more, can be a silent destroyer if left unchecked and uncared for. Thankfully, I have resources I can reach for, and I unabashedly do. Writing about this helps me and I hope it allows people who land on these pages to realize they are not alone. They are not selfish or being a baby by recognizing that they have pain. Inside. On their hearts. We all do. Just when I think I have “it” figured out, it’s like the universe says, “Oh yeah, Alayne, you think? Let’s see what you have figured out.” And some small drip barely noticeable turns into an emotional puddle suddenly expanding and needs a basin to catch the fall. Sometimes I can hear my grandmother saying, “Enough with the crying already,” like I am purposely opening up a wound rather than giving it the time it needs to heal, once again judging my feelings as good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong.

Perhaps for my own experience are the triggers that this time of year presents as my birthday fast approaches. My birthday twice has given me negative news. I like symbolism of numbers and the way they tell a story. First diagnosis- 2015 (odd year) when I turned 50 (even year). Second diagnosis- 2017 (odd year) when I turned 52 (even year). So here we go. 2019, I will be 54. Just went for my check up- all good. Why worry? I am not really worried, I think I am just more triggered and perhaps this is the year that I really deal with the mending of the physical trauma I continue to heal from.

I am such a crazy checklist person that I likely (foolishly in retrospect) thought I would be done with by now. Diagnosis. Check. Genetic testing. Check. Surgery. Check, Surgical menopause. Check. Recovery. Check. Up and about. Check. Scars healed. Check. New Boobs. Interested in sex again. Check. Feeling like myself again. This is where it gets murky because that ‘self’ is no longer. Perhaps she is who I grieve. Our lives are long strange trips when we have the blessed fortune to have long ones. Maybe the rough current I have been feeling in my insides is the reminder that the shake up I have gone through for the past four years is my new self. I know I can’t fight the waves for sure, when there is a riptide, panic and struggle are not helpful, instead leaning back and allowing the wave to just take you where you are supposed to go is often the saving grace. This is hard for me, the release of working on the project rather than the surrender to it. But as I write this last word, Surrender, I know that this is my work. I surrender. This feels like the best way to take a trip so I lie on my back and let floatation carry me where it is supposed to. Let’s see what that feels like for a while.

Health

IS CELERY JUICE THE NEW KALE?

“Have you tried celery juice?” my beloved Dr. W. asked me at my regular breast check in this past Monday. “No.” I replied with a straight face. “But funny you should ask, because my new favorite nutritionist Amanda Rigby just recommended this to me. Something about cleaning out the liver…” I suppose I should feel grateful that I have a doctor in my direct inner circle who would even know about this. A doctor who would be willing to speak the blasphemy of ….. shhhh, quiet here……functional medicine…. in her office while BIG PHARMA BROTHER looks on waiting like a predator to pounce on every unsuspecting person in America to get them on their plethora of pharmacopia.

I love Dr.W. like a sister and I am so grateful for her brilliance, but also for the kinship we share in trying to navigate through the bullshit of what we really have control over when it comes to recurrences. She has seen it all in the world of female cancer and I trust her completely. That being said, I have to make my own way through the maze and hard work of deciphering what I am willing to commit to when it comes to preventative vs reality. I have done my own research for the past almost thirty years.

I read a book by AnneMarie Colbin called Food and Healing written in 1986 when she was talking about fat and nightshades and the challenges that food brings to our health in both negative and positive ways. This book set me on a path of studying on my own any food modality as it relates to healing the body and for the most part I feel I have been way ahead of most of the doctors and nutritionists I have met since. This may read arrogant after all I have no credibility as far as initials after my name, but what these books have taught me is that we are all are own science experiment. I know my own body like a slick leather glove that fits perfectly.

But celery juice? I get it. I get the need for a healthy gut, for a better liver to increase functionality in our bodies filled with toxins and goodness knows what else. I get the need for the consideration of prevention. Prevention is that pesky word we consider often after the fact. Usually the P word comes in the thousands of articles everyone who thinks they are being helpful sends along with the “FYI” caption. But how much is just out of our control?

I am not the type to put my head in the sand ignoring all of this influx of information coming at me every time I open my computer screen. Sometimes I get sucked into the rabbit hole of over thinking everything that goes into this body of mine. This unnecessary stress is not helpful for sure. It causes lots of guilty feelings everytime I decide that Macaroni and cheese instead of a kale salad is the dinner of choice. And I think often, does it really fucking matter?

Twenty years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a woman, Dr. Pamela Peeke . I had invited her as a guest speaker to an event I planned. At the time, she was doing extensive research on the how the effects of stress in our lives was showing up as the inordinate amounts of illness now part of the human race caused by its regular presence. She planted the seed in my mind about the importance of movement and other stress reducers even more so than food. She has gone on to write books and speak at Ted talks around the globe. In my experience it is stress more than most other factors that create illness. Of course, stress from bad eating is definitely one of the many elements of stress as a whole, but there are so many causes of daily stress I am sure play an even larger part of the puzzle.

Family relationships, financial worries, evolving friendships and catostrophic events all plant their little seedlings along the way sometimes growing ever so slowly or sometimes like dandelion weeds after a four day rainfall. I do believe that learning to settle down, slow down and make peace with your past are all helpful ways in our control to change the growth pattern that has been planted. Meditating, writing, art, creativity, reading, walking, exercising, cooking and not drinking alcohol are definitely the top ways I work on my own stress and past traumatic events. Focusing on these things that bring such joy to my life helps me heal and march forth in ways hard for me to describe. But I do. I march forth.

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As I made my way to the second Dr’s appointment of the week to have my plastic surgeon inspect his hard work on my upper half, he reminded me that I am still swollen. It has been almost two years since the first half of my surgery and almost a year and a half since my last one.

“Swollen? Still? Really?” I asked, perplexed. “How could I still be swollen?”

“Totally normal, he replied matter of factly. And you will feel joint pain and tightness too, so don’t be alarmed.”  It was here at this very moment that I freed myself from thinking that the mac and cheese from Sunday’s football extravaganza was the root of all evil. I am swollen because I had two of my breasts taken off, fat sucked out of my stomach that I didn’t ask to be sucked out for said breasts, muscle from my back brought to my front to support the fat and allow the new breasts to have a permanant home. Why the hell would I not be so swollen? I was thinking that it was my workouts, my body, my food intake, causing my fingers to be slightly swollen so that some of my favorite rings no longer slide on.

This is the bad part of being a resillient half full kind of chick. I had forgotten about the stress that my body has gone through in the last four years. Four surgeries in four years. And I was one of the lucky ones, I didn’t even have to have chemo. I would say that counts for stress, wouldn’t you? I don’t think buying endless stalks of celery and putting them in my three hundred dollar juicer every morning before I start my day is going to be a game changer for this body. I also don’t know if daily celery juicing is going work the same type of magic as a good deep breath at the mat with myself breathing in light and out darkness. I am willing to try it maybe. No scratch that. I am not juicing celery stalks, fuck that.

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now they tell me….

 

 

Uncategorized

AN AWKWARD FRIEND

AN AWKWARD FRIEND

I met Kim Walker, formerly Kim Otterbein, through simultaneous traumatic events. My business had suffered a flood from frozen pipes in a crazy ice capade in a winter storm in February 2013. She was going through her own personal storm of divorce and personal issues causing her and her former husband to have to sell their magical dream house . They had poured their money, their love and energies into restoring a house born in 1865 that had been through many hands finding its way into their lives in 2005. Kim was an artist so her brilliant creativity redesigned the house giving it a feel of new, but magically making it feel like everything was original. Kim and I knew each other socially from around town because we both owned businesses and would often run into each other, but we never hung out in the same circle. We liked each other, though and we shared a common free spirit hippie chick vibe that connected us happily when we would run into each other.

We found ourselves intertwined when she needed to sell her home and I needed to find one to move my business into. My dear friend Morgan, randomly said to me one day, You should look at The Bead House when she saw the awful situation I had found myself in while my business was semi closed. The Bead House was the business Kim owned on the first floor while the second and third floor was her family residence. Kim was a magnificent jewelry designer, an artist, and had this lovely little shop on the first floor that taught jewelry making. At that point, I had never considered looking at property to purchase especially the glorious Bead House with a very high price tag that was way out of my comfort zone thinking it could even be a remote possibility. Morgan had other thoughts though. It never occurred to her that this space wasn’t a possibility and I credit her almost 100% to the literal key that got me thinking I CAN rather than i can’t. Purchasing this house changed my life in so many ways and my I CAN attitude has been rewarded and confirmed in layers of joys I am in perpetual awe of.

When I looked at The Bead House in February of 2013, I fell in love and made my offer which after some back and forth was finally accepted and Kim and I merged paths. I don’t know what it is like to have to sell your home. I do know what it is like to leave a home though and there is so much emotion tied into the experience. Kim and I found a kindred spirit between each other during this time. I think she was heartened to know that her baby, this home that she had literally poured her soul into, would move into the hands and heart of someone she genuinely liked and respected. I know that she felt like her home would be in loving and appreciative care. Though the entire experience was a sad one, she made peace with walking away and I became the proud torch carrier of this magnificent house I refer to as the Magic Palace.

When I first moved in, I had purchased a few of her large pieces of furniture, a couch and a chair and a table too and I had offered her a space to leave her grandmother’s armoire since it was way too big to move. I had told her that it could stay here as long as she wanted and when her daughter, Ali was ready for it, it would be here. Five years later, it still sits waiting and the offer is still open.

I felt for the first few years living here a certain responsibility to maintain the garden, the paint colors without too much of a change, kind of as a bow to Kim and only recently in the past two years have I started to really feel like the space was truly mine. This was nothing that came from Kim, just my own sense of order and right kindness. Kim and I spoke a few times, she visited one time when she was back this way after moving to Arizona, but even though it was a pleasant visit, there was also awkwardness to it. Hard to describe; I think we both understood that we would enjoy each other’s spirits but at a gentle distance going forward. This was unspoken, but it felt right. Again hard to describe.

Her daughter Ali walked by one July 4th and I invited her in for a visit and gave her some time alone to meander, to grieve and say a proper goodbye. When I got breast cancer I spoke with Kim a few times because Kim had breast cancer too. The irony I do not take lightly and I try not to think about it as some weird message. Kim was helpful with her advice and our exchange was always positive and understanding. She was a special soul and a kind one. And one that no longer is part of the now, as her cancer returned and took her life just a few days after her birthday and two days before the Winter Solstice just two days ago, December 19th.

A short life traveled well, rocky and smooth, but also my feeling was that she found herself in the after of this house. I on the other hand have found myself in the now of this house. I like the neatness of that, the visual of Kim passing the torch to me, a kindred female spirit. I can’t believe that another superchick I know has moved on so young again. I sit on her couch, look at her chair and her grandmother’s armoire. Everyday I brush my teeth, I look into the same mirror above the sink in my bathroom knowing that Kim looked at her own reflection as she went through her breast cancer, her decision to divorce her husband and the other daily mind thoughts that stare back at you during the simple rituals of teeth brushing and mascara applying. I listen to my son who is home from college turning on the faucet on the third floor and am happy he is home, but I also think about Kim sitting on this very couch hearing her own children wake up making the same sounds. It is an awkward experience knowing that this house was passed from a woman I greatly admired, who left this house closing the door to a part of her life that allowed me to open it to a wonderful life I get to call my own. Kimball Walker. I thank you for every trail and nugget you left me. I will always feel and honor your presence in my home that was yours and in the garden that you started. Rest in peace, your legacy at 11 Constitution will go on.







in good hands indeed, Rest in Peace Kim.
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THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

There is a bathing suit store I have visited in Sarasota every single year since I was in my twenties. My grandmother would take me there to buy a suit and I would traipse off to Siesta Key for sun and tan during my visits with my grandparents. My grandmother would plead with me to buy a bathing suit that would cover my “tuchas,” (Yiddish slang word for derriere) and I would roll my eyes with disdain and impatience. At twenty four, there was no way I was going to prance around on the white sands of Siesta Key with some old lady skirt. Rumps are for displaying, especially the twenty four year old kind. My grandmother would of course concede and I would get the bathing suit I wanted, usually skimpy as most twenty something girls were wearing at the time. As I reflect back, especially these days when thongs are the new normal, my bathing suit choices were relatively conservative. To my grandmother, though, who was all about outward appearances when it came to modesty, my choices were horrifying and we had lots of body talk or more like body commentary creating a self consciousness that I still struggle with to this day.

Bathing suits and self talk go hand in hand for me and I am guessing most women. I can see why, since suits are more or less like prancing around in a pair of underpants and a bra for the world to see. All shapes and sizes in a multitude of dressing rooms trying on bathing suits after a winter of hibernation and head to toe cover does not usually make for a good recipe in the changing room. But for some reason, we go back year after year because for the most part either our suits are too ragged from over use the year or two before or we are gluttons for punishment. For me actually, I am hopeful that this year will be the year that I look in the bathing suit mirror and see a reflection back that says, Wow, alayne you look amazing. All that working out and clean eating has actually paid off. You go girl.

Before I head there, though, let me describe the bathing suit dressing room just in case the reader hasn’t indulged recently or perhaps the changing rooms in other places that women try on bathing suits is not the same. I shall set the stage. I walk in to my go to store like I have done every single year since 1989 when they opened. I would have been twenty four; I am now almost fifty four so this is thirty years of bathing suit changes. The store hasn’t changed much except they have Pergo floors instead of carpeting and have added a men’s section. There are a few mannequins in the window sporting the latest in trends, usually on about a size four model and always bikinis. I always love those suits the most and head towards the wall that has them. Size 8 if I am really lucky, though usually more like a ten, but more on this shortly. The large wall immediately on my right above all of the sundresses is the wall I have usually made my way to, but a few years ago, I learned that this wall was now juniors. This would explain why not even a size 12 would cover the ass my grandmother was always nagging me about. Instead of saying juniors, they should say teens, this way there would be no pretense that I should even be close to that wall. But for some reason every year, I still think that these suits are not going to let me down. On the other wall, across from the juniors toward the back of the store are the clearly non juniors. Now why some bathing suit company has not realized that there doesn’t have to be Juniors OR Missus with nothing in between is beyond me. I am not a one piece girl, never have been because one thing I do know for sure is that I have a good stomach, always have. No one pieces and no tankinis either. But in this section that I fondly call the old lady section, my choices were slim. Like J. Jill, the assumption is that every older woman is trying to camouflage their mid section. This is not my problem. I don’t want a two piece that is like wall to wall carpeting, I also don’t want a two piece that had layers of fabric that is supposed to do some fake illusion thing to your hips.

A year before my mastectomy, I discovered the company Jag. Jag made a bottom that was like a hip skirt, kind of Athleta type and because I must always have back up, I promptly purchased four of them. The store still carries them and I am guessing that this must be a go to brand for the in between type of woman like myself. My grandmother was right apparently, skirts were the way to go and I was finally free at the beach to not fret and poke and pull constantly at my bottoms that no matter what the size always landed promptly between my cheeks. Skirts changed all of this for me. And now that I have a set of some very upright fake mastectomied boobs, a sporty Lulu top finally gave me peace with my body at the beach.

Until I went to Sao Miguel this past summer and made my way to the beach where there was not one woman with a skirt. I am talking the largest to the smallest, no one was sporting my sporty skirt and I actually stood out oddly making me feel self conscious. I am clearly fucked up when it comes to body image and this is for another piece at a later time, but I decided then and there that enough with the skirts. I have a healthy body and I am alive and happy. I am wearing a pair of bathing suit bottoms and ditching the skirt. I have an ass, I have always had an ass, I have strong hardy thighs and I have always had strong hardy thighs, I am woman hear me roar. I walked into the familiar and strangely comforting store yesterday this time with my partner rather than my grandmother. He needed a pair of swim suit shorts too and had offered to buy me a bathing suit. I was relieved to find a grown up sales woman (often there are college kids working there and they do not yet understand my plight) and told her my dilemma. I relayed the above information to her and let her know that since my reconstruction surgery, I have struggled to find a top as well. I finally conceded that if I were going to make my way back to a standard bikini I would have to aim for a full coverage pair of bottoms.

Yes it has happened. I have crossed the line into the suits for mature women. She was so kind and understanding and quickly found me a few suits that she placed in the dressing room. The dressing room is very large hosting at least eight separate changing rooms. Each with their own mirror and if you are feeling brave, you can walk into the main very spacious part of the changing area amongst the tribe and use the three way. There is even a convenient hand held that you can torture yourself with to see your full back side. And to top off this torture chamber, lets add the brightest fluorescent lights accentuating every spot of cellulite you never knew you had. For all of this, I am willing to pay $150 for two pieces of spandex I could bunch up and place in my pocket while my partner doesn’t even have to try on his $28 pair of swim shorts that could easily make three full sets of bathing suits for me. This time though, because I had an experienced sales woman, the two suits she brought me fit like a glove. I pranced out into the main area, then decided to walk into the actual store to find my man and ask him what he thought. Affirmative. Though I am fully aware that the ask is a loaded question to begin with, I did feel that he would honestly let me know if what I was wearing looked good. Enough. Good enough. This is the part of the story that I really like. Despite the never ending cycle of jibber jabber body self talk craziness that has gone on in my head for as long as I can remember, yesterday’s bathing suit try on was actually pretty satisfying. I liked the way I looked. I finally found a top that actually fit these weird porn star silicone attachments that have found their way to my upper self and I realized that I am ok with the woman’s section. A medium is fine. For that matter, a large is even fine. Size 8 is bullshit in a bathing suit, numbers should be illegal when it comes to bathing suits now that I think of it, I AM a woman. The woman’s section is just fine. I have earned the status and proud of it.

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WELCOME TO THE GRAND ILLUSION

WELCOME TO THE GRAND ILLUSION

“Getting in a new shiny bad ass car is like a great push up bra,” my long time incredibly body confident friend, Sara said so matter of factly as we discussed the car the other day on the phone. She called me because she had read my writings chronologically last week and thought they sounded like something was awry. We share the same birthday and have known each other for over twenty years. She is a great friend and knows me on a highly spiritual level and she has witnessed my sometimes erratic shopping behavior as well as lived through several of my previous car purchases. They usually are symbolic of something going on and as usual, she was right. I didn’t have the heart to remind her that push up bras are unnecessary these days, my upper body is a walking push up bra, but point taken. Buying new cars is clearly connected to something deeper and complex, but in the moment, all of this is completely out the window.

“No I don’t want the apple car play,” I kindly said to Gary Garafolo, the smart salesman at the car dealership. “I actually have this in my car right now and I find it incredibly distracting. As a matter of fact is there any way to get this car without the almost ipad look alike screen daring me to tap it as the bluescreen simultaneously screams at me “Warning, using the screen while driving can be distracting!” No shit. But there is no option B, this car as all the cars on the lot come with the blue screen, your only choice is apple car play or just blue tooth. But as I sighed with the knowing that when you are purchasing a high end car that looks like a cross between a bat mobile and a shiny black portable Royal typewriter, tinted windows and all, there are certain notions assumed by the people designing them. I am trying to not see the car as one of those black beasts frequented on THE HANDMAIDS TALE sending shivers in my spine every time I watch just one more episode. I am guessing that the majority of the design team are men and I am making a broad assumption that like a bathroom layout in a sporting arena, they aren’t thinking about a woman behind the wheel as the one hundred percent driver and purchaser.

A new car is invigorating, the smell, the neatness, the shine. Learning all of the buttons is a full time job in itself and with all of the computer generated commentary going on every time I get in and out of it, Gary let me know when I purchased it that the car would take some time to get to know my style. Creepy to say the least. Why did I even want this car, one may ask. The main reason (at least on the glossy outside who people on the outside think I am) is the pick up and delivery, the your wish is our command at the dealership, the we’ll pick it up, pick you up, bring you a car, drop you off kind of service I just really was willing to pay for the older I get. And older I get is what I hope for.

There are bells and whistles and more bells and whistles, there are three different navigation options, not including the voice command I have to practice like a language enunciation class so that the she voice recognizes my tone. She still hasn’t figured me out and I haven’t appreciated her help when I am trying to dictate where I want to go. This happened last week when I got lost in Fall River looking for Flint Street so I could take my aunt to Sam’s bakery for our beloved Lebanese pies. After speaking in a calm tone, then a slightly raised voice, then a slow deliberate one, I finally had to pull over and put it in my iphone and use Google maps which completely defeated the purpose. Then I remembered about an app on my phone that allows me to put the address into it and like magic, the address was projected into navigation. The app, by the way also allows me to lock and unlock my car and turn my car on from my living room ten minutes before I am ready to depart. No wonder the world is getting lazier and fatter by the minute. I can’t believe I have purchased a car that does these things. In most ways it is completely out of character. At least my inside character to people who really know my insides, not the glossy outside chick that people assume is the one on the inside too. It’s like I live in a camoflauge. When I pulled up last weds after picking it up to drive my friend Chris, the first words out of my mouth were, “Does this car make me look too Jewish?” He had no idea what I was talking about. Leave it to a full bred Wasp. “What does that even mean, he asked, somewhat startled by my question. I didn’t have the heart to explain to him that if I had to explain it, he likely wouldn’t get it anyway.

I brought the car over to another friend’s house to show him, it seems that this is the protocol when purchasing a crazy car like this and he looked at the back of the car where it said 4matic. “Does this car have four wheel drive?” he asked curiously. “I have no idea.” Among many other features the first week that my new set of wheels likely has that I have no idea about because honestly it never would occur to me that someone would even think to put a feature in the car in the first place. He asked me where the spare tire was, yep forgot to ask that too. “It must be somewhere.” I half said. I love the weird button by the super large skylight that I can push at any given time and be connected with the magic Mercedes person. Need a dinner reservation? Push the button. Need help on the road? Push the button. Who needs Triple A when I have Mercedes on demand. Running late for a meeting? Push the button and Mercedes will send to the navigation an alternate route. I love America. Or maybe I should be saying I love Germany, but I can’t bring myself to say that. I love the absurdity that I can decide I want a new car, go to a dealer and in less than 24 hours, drive away in one. Irresponsible, impractical, careless, all these words spin wildly like my grandparents voices in the back seat telling me to be more pragmatic, my father rolling his hippie eyes from the grave disbelieving he has a daughter who would even want to drive a car like this let alone buy one. But see this is what cancer does, it gives you a quick jolt into the LET’S LIVE NOW.

As I approach my second week with this new sparkly set of wheels, I looked down and noticed that I have a cd player, old school. I also remembered that on my last minimize jag of cleaning and having a yard sale I didn’t end up selling my stellar collection of CDs. I went into my basement where they have been patiently waiting for my return, like they knew I would need them again someday and pulled out a few round discs to take with me hoping they wouldn’t skip. Mary J Blige, a cd I had purchased when I bought my Cooper convertible when I was forty. Seal, a cd that my brother turned me on to when he was alive, we had listened it to in in a rent a car driving from North Carolina to Dc to our cousins’ Bar Mitzvah a million years ago. Santana, because the guitar at almost full volume makes you feel like Carlos is in my back seat giving me a private concert. And Styx. Welcome to the Grand Illusion. I put it in the player at as loud as my ears could handle and I was transported to an CYO dance in the basement of St. Marks Church, I was time traveled to times spent hanging out with my friend Joe, whose nickname in his former pre AA life used to be Toad smoking joints in my 63 vw bug at Beavertail. The music made me smile as I reminisced about a group of us misfit kids with absent parents hanging around an island with barely a hint of adult supervision, walking barefoot, around town and not realizing how great our little and free lives were despite our missing mothers and fathers. I had to call him immediately to tell him, he didn’t answer, but I knew he would recognize my zest for these times. It is easy to sensationalize the good stuff and forget about the painful parts.

Life is and can be a grand illusion. There is something energizing in approaching my second year of the cancer survivor story- something that makes me throw cares to the wind, live on the edge, jump in naked and full throttle. No one gets out alive. Why not enjoy the ride?


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SUPER SHERO

SUPER SHERO

Her cape came off along with her breasts, well actually it was her breasts first, then the cape, but she didn’t know this until after. In fact she didn’t even realize she was wearing a perpetual cape all that time until her upper body came off in that swoosh of surgery marked up with black marker like a Singer sewing pattern in her family’s old textile mill. There was no warning that the cape she didn’t know she had been relying on would disappear too. She didn’t know this was part of the surgical plan, no one had told her that part until after she awoke from the sleepy haze of too many greedy pushes of the morphine button. When she did finally awaken though she could feel a shift, a metamorphosis actually. There she stood, shimmery salty hair blowing in the imaginary wind, feet planted as firmly as a New England oak, thigh muscles contracted ready for battle, hands on her hips, brave, emboldened almost. There was no battle, though, only the battle cry of the war that had come and gone with her life before. Her life before the one with her trusty cape always on her back that gave her the false protection she thought she needed. Rooted, solid, naked -she after two years, three surgeries and major parts of her body removed, there was immense power in the realization that she had kept her superpowers and that those powers had even strengthened was cause for complete celebration. There are major parts of a body you don’t need, those parts can come off and go through the petri dish to be analyzed and poked at, then discarded.

Turns out capes, especially the shiny red satin glimmer ones, have their way of disguising what lies beneath, creating that shell of illusion that the exterior is the abominable strength, the façade that people- both heroines and villains see with their supposed x ray eyes. But they never really know the core beneath the magic flying swirling cape. The core of vulnerability and humility where truth and light really lie. There was a great rawness in the stripping, the unbaring of the literal upper body that shines the flashlight in the dark crevices and fissures where the dirt once lay. Exposure is interesting, liberating almost. The year of no cape was where her power recharged, like her pal Superman getting taken down by a speck of kryptonite, except he needed lots of external help to strengthen, she was taken down so she could rise again with her own volcanic eruption.

And rise again is exactly what she has been doing, rising, blooming, from the volcanic ash of being torn down, the hint of the first green sprout among the barren land began as soon as she could stand again, as soon as the drains that weighed her down came off, as soon as the plastic tubing disconnected from her skin, she broke free from the harness that wouldn’t allow her out until she was good and ready. Being stuck, and brought to a prone position was where the start of her life began again though. She realized she didn’t need a cape, the bold brightness that had become her was one in the same. She was her own cape now. No more sparkly sequined bedazzled fabric claiming magic when all along the magic was her. She finally asked the most obvious question in the room no longer considering that this exterior was what people wanted to see, whether she wanted them to see it or they wanted to see it with their own way of looking. What did she want to see? She was the one who needed saving this time. And she dove into the old cold salty sea to reclaim that which was lost because she had been lost under the cape and never knew this all of this time.

Her superpowers came from the blatant awareness that she got to live, that she would have two new round silicone warrior shields always with her protecting her front from the harm that comes when too many people want a piece. Her coat of arms was a double shield of breasts, tall straight out, like her ally, Wonder Woman, but without the points outward. No offense to her friend, but she didn’t need an invisible plane or sparkly gold bangles, she didn’t need a dramatic spin or a starred crown in the center of the front of her head, she didn’t need anything exterior anymore to show her strength or purpose to the world. Rather than the outside in, this new found power was hers from the inside out. No one needed to see the cape, the cape was folded and placed in the attic trunk for her future granddaughter to play with one day. The magic of its secrets tucked neatly away for later discoveries by the next generation who she hoped she could teach that capes are only necessary as a guide not a buoy or a life raft. Losing breasts and gaining new ones made her a warrior and there was no turning back now. Who she wanted to be was who she is, emboldened with the gift of mortality in question, the cape would always be there for her to play with and look at, maybe to even play dress up with, but that is all it would be for in this next part of her life. So she got into her new bat mobile and drove off to the beat of the sound system that only a bad ass car with a black shiny armor and tinted windows can make. She knew who was driving now.



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NOT THAT BAD

NOT THAT BAD

It seemed like the one liner I heard over and over again after I delivered my son almost twenty one years ago was, “As time goes by, you forget the pain of the delivery and you will want another one.” I definitely forgot the pain of the delivery, but there was no way I wanted another. One was plenty. I knew myself well back at thirty-three and I knew with all of my heart, that I wouldn’t have been a good mother to more than one. And as my son approaches the momentous occasion of twenty-one with the world as his oyster boldly in front of him, I love that decision more every year because I love his being more every year.

As we mothers know, the pain in delivery is only the beginning of motherhood and frankly I am in awe of every mother who decides to do it again. Motherhood was a roller coaster ride of emotions, guilt, joy, worry, panic, love, like, oh my God what have I done and will I ever be able to go the grocery store or take a shower again feelings that moved in and out and up and down and through my heart from one moment to the next. The emotions on any given day varied, challenging my thinking, my esteem, my validity and my abilities in the role of mom, wife, woman and human being.

Another tagline typical of moms with kids that were older than mine was “Wait till they go to kindergarten, school flies by.” Then from the much older moms whose children were my son’s age at the time, “Enjoy every moment, time goes by in a nanosecond.” I couldn’t imagine this when my son was screaming at five pm every night and I couldn’t settle him, no matter what. I never thought that five years would pass until he got to kindergarten, but it did and here we are, junior year in college all of a sudden.Time did go by in a nanosecond. Turns out, time did fly by and it seems to be accelerating every day as I am hungrier to accomplish more and more.

In an odd juxtaposition, breast cancer was like this too. Approaching my first full year of the final reconstruction surgery this September feels in some ways like it did when I had Michael. I have almost forgotten all of the bad parts. The drains, the discomfort, the numbness in my entire upper body, my loss of upper back strength, my self awareness of the fakeness of what is now my very upright and pointy wonder woman boobs that adorn my body like a fifties pin up poster. I finally feel like myself again, only better and it wasn’t that bad.

Now this all being said, I reiterate, I never had chemo, my breast cancer was caught early two times and I have done preventative surgery to take out those pesky ovaries hoping to shut down that wild and untamed estrogen my bad ass body loves to produce. Every single woman is different and by no means is this being written for anyone who is going through this shitty ordeal or has gone through it or has a friend or a sister or a mom who is about to go through this to compare their experience to.

It sucked, it was painful, it was traumatic and awful while I was in the quagmire, but I am still here. And it wasn’t that bad. As I get ready to celebrate the first full year of the last part of my whirlwind ride with my new boobs, I can’t believe it has been a year. Like being a mom to an almost twenty one year old, time has blasted forward in a time travel capsule to another dimension. I have a hunger for learning and writing and creating that I never imagined and I know it is because of this breast cancer experience. There is both a sense of urgency to gain knowledge about so many things I have no knowledge of and I am in awe at the magnitude of what I don’t know. The twist of this urgency though is the calmness and peace I also feel. Panic and fear has left this building I call my body and my non-stop ever working mind. Of course I still have moments of anxious thinking, who doesn’t, but the knowing is a constant that everything works out in the divine right order and the endless lists I love to write get done when they are supposed to.

Perhaps these feelings are the trifecta of new boobs coupled with getting closer to fifty five and having a son turn twenty one… and menopause… and realizing over and over that no one gets out alive. This is humbling as I navigate my way through the maze of my life as calm and joyous as humanly possible. Good Old Dr. Hottie, (remember him?) assured me at the very first, and very frightening at the time, consultation that when this one year mark came, I would look in the mirror and say holy crap, Alayne, those are some seriously awesome tits, (actually he never said that, but he should have). What he said was that it would take a full year to feel like myself again.

What he didn’t say is how much better I feel than I thought I would.

It took me almost five years to feel like myself again when I became a new mom, now Michael heads to the half way mark of college and he has a mom who gets to be alive to witness it. This is the gift and for this, I can’t express enough gratitude.



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LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

“To change your flight, it will either be $350 economy to Boston or $475 Business class to Providence,” Eduardo from Fall River who owns the quirky travel agency I used for my trip said via a text message over eight days ago. I arrived here in this place called Sao Miguel in the Azores, a virtual speck on the planet smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean barely a stones throw from the East Coast, but a world away over twelve days ago. I knew instantly that six days would never be enough to cover this beautiful landscape and typical of my spontaneous personality extended my trip as quickly as I could eat another bolo. There is something that happens to the spirit when traveling, especially solo. I blow all cares to the wind, worrying about money like calories disappear and like magic it seems like both are unlimited as my traveling companions.

Because I have a most fabulous team who cares for me as much as they do about my business, they rose to the occasion to allow me an extra six days away and I took door number two, Providence, business class. The flight leaving at 10:25 instead of 8:00am and arriving at a much more civilized time for my very accommodating son to pick me up. I am flying business class which is a complete luxury I do not take for granted. I have only had this experience once before with my dear brother friend, Ken who is a frequent flyer and got us business class on Lufthansa headed back from Spain.

There is something really over the top snobby about the business class experience. It reminds me of the stories I have read about first class and way below first class on ships coming from areas filled with wealthy tourists traveling on the top and immigrants on the bottom of the ship starting new lives in America. There is a slight discomfort in sassing to my own special line marked Sata Plus, being allowed two bags instead of one, being able to wait in a special lounge with free waters and unlimited snacks that gives me a little hesitation and cringe. I am not complaining, after all I paid for the benefits of this. So when I got to the security check point to place my bags through like everyone else there was no special treatment for the three bottles of pineapple liquor I had purchased at the pineapple plantation. I forgot that they couldn’t go in my bag as they were eight ounces each and I had already checked my luggage. I was asked whether I had any liquids and had just replied no when I watched my bags held up in the scanner. Shit, I have the three bottles of pineapple liquor totaling forty-five euros (about 60 dollars), I remembered and came clean immediately hoping that my business class ticket would allow the free pass. No such luck, confiscated promptly and as I offered the kind woman the bottles to enjoy for herself she assured me they would be going in the trash. What a waste. I secretly hoped someone was in the know of this pile of tourist trash and regularly scoped out the barrels so at least someone would get to enjoy. I’ll never know, but it was quite hilarious as I finally got through the gate and was faced with the duty free store selling the same pineapple liquor. I have to admit, I was tempted, but on principal I refused the temptation.

This glorious island got enough of my economics this last twelve days. From the plastic Virgin Mary statue, my friend Jane bought me, along with the t shirts and beautiful skirts, volcanic stone necklaces, heart shaped rocks, pottery and local teas I have the materials in my two pieces of luggage that will forever remind me of this past twelve days. But even though security took my pineapple liquor, there is not a cell in my body that does not feel one hundred percent in love with this island. As I told the kind woman at the gate that I had a great time and didn’t want to leave, I surprisingly welled up with tears- clearly a sign of a much needed and great vacation. For this I will allow the word journey. Breast cancer twice, learning of a genetic mutation in almost an entire family line, a mother who doesn’t speak to me, a lifelong best friend who went silent for no apparent reason with not even the consideration of an explanation, a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, that is not a journey. This has all been my life for the past three years, not a journey at all, more like a tragedy. but this trip, this magical past twelve days of delight and the kindest of people, the laughing, the crying and the laughing so hard you cry, this I will call a journey. My heart is full and I can’t wait to come back.


my morning goodbye to the good life, till we meet again, Azores!