The days that come our way in little staccatos during our winters I refer to as tease days. Those luscious days after a freezing cold spell where the temperature magically climbs to 35 or 40 degrees causing elation and jubilance among fellow New England comrades. It is not unusual to see an immediate surge in the roar of motorcycles, convertibles out and about with their drivers wrapped up like they are headed on an expedition to Mt. Everest. Shorts and an extra pep in the step of people who had previously thought they were hunkered down for the long haul and bike riders trying to appreciate the glorious bonus day of some added warmth and brighter light.
We New Englanders so willingly get sucked into that tease. When the slightest increase in temperature makes it feel positively balmy outside almost making us want to pull out the gardening equipment to clean up the yard. But we seasoned souls know that this is only a lure of nature, playfully provoking us to think that this is a reliable temperature. We shut down our heat, open our windows, change the sheets on our bed and lean full force into what we know is temporary. After all, it is February and though we have not had even a drop of snow, we have been here before. That year not too long ago when we thought we were home free, barely a snow plow bill and just like that- snow in record amounts every day for almost an entire month. Mother Nature as usual made fools of us. It is we who choose to live in this environment rather than a larger space of a state offering sun and fun most of the year.
I have been on a mission this year to pepper my fitness routine with bouts of nature. Hikes, walks, climbs, outside no matter the temperature instead of the gym running like a hamster on a treadmill among the tribe of the fabulously fit. My love for the crazy gym workouts is still pure, but I have found my body desires less of that potency and more of outside walks so I honor this as often as I can. Walking to the library to return my latest read and hoping that another great book awaits fills my soul as much as fifty burpees, (well maybe 20 burpees).
Because I have the luxury of two spaces I get to call home in two glorious locations, both near large bodies of water, the beach is easy access especially on my way from one to the other in the early morning light. Recently I have been stopping at the beach, leaving my phone in the car so as not to be distracted by feeling the need to take it out of my pocket every five minutes to capture a picture that will never look as good as the real one in front of me. The sound of the waves, the tide, the shrieking of the seagulls, the wind in my hair and in my lungs and that deep smell that wakes a very tired olfactory system up from its dormancy that has been locked up in forced heat and closed windows makes my heart open wide.
I make my way from the parking lot, locking my car and feeling the change of scenery in my shoes as they move from pavement to sand and I am home. The beach is my happy place. I have figured out much about my life and who I am in these tender moments. I have released old stinky stale thoughts and welcomed new bright sun-filled ideas that seem to pop at rapid fire. Problems solved, anxious thought cast out to sea, heart rocks avail themselves at every turn and nature bathes me like a baptism. Outside never disappoints and whether it is freezing, blustery, humid, baking, misty and everything in between, the beach right in my backyard in a fifteen minute drive is a reward beyond pushups and ab crunches. Though my body may not be as rock hard as those pesky movements create in my muscles, the deep breaths, the contemplation, the change in scenery and aroma in my hair is enough to compensate.
As I walked yesterday in what seemed like a 60 degree rare day in February, I did a lot of soul searching, I sat on a piece of driftwood that had made its home from goodness knows what journey and meditated for a good fifteen minutes breathing in and out at the pace of the wave. When I opened my eyes I looked ahead, I looked to my right and to my left and I was the only one on the beach. My private moment deep within witnessed only by me and I smiled at my good fortune and appreciation that I was able to veer off my course and take a right into the parking lot instead of saying I will do a walk when I have more time. Because really what does this even mean, how do I know that I will have more time? How does anyone know this? The power is in the present moment. We just forget to look. Yesterday I didn’t forget and today I will try again to remember the gifts of every time I do.
There it was, in the cookbook section of the small independent bookstore I have made my way to every year for the past six in the stunning fall foliage of the White Mountains. I had found myself with some alone time, meandering through the small shops of North Conway, New Hampshire and decided to visit my favorite store for the second time this week. My partner was back at the condo reading and resting, I was out on Main St. trying to support the local New Hampshire economy like a good tourist. I don’t really buy books any more. I relish using the library now, the smell, the neatly covered books with their plastic protectors, the interaction with the librarians and volunteers. But here I stood in the aisles among rows and rows of glorious possibilities and found myself scanning the cookbooks.
One book almost impossible to take out of the library is a cookbook. First of all, a cookbook needs its butter smears and gravy drippings on its pages, eliminating it immediately from being a library contender. For a while I was taking books I had purchased to the beach rather than the library book I had taken out for fear of getting it greased with sunscreen. Now that I am a seasoned library book borrower however I have graduated myself to a successful beach outing with the loaner. But cookbooks still don’t really fall into a successful library book borrow so here I was gazing. I surely don’t need another cookbook, I have plenty I haven’t even made my way through yet, but there she was in her aerobic clothing, midriff bare like a teenager, hair coiffed like Farrah Fawcett, perfectly blonde feathered bang, lovely and firm cleavage gazing out at the camera as if she were posing for seventeen magazine in the seventies. Except the difference was she wasn’t seventeen. Unless she got married at thirteen, she had to be at least forty- five since her bio on the inside jacket fold said she had been married for twenty five years with two teenage daughters.
The person I am speaking of was or rather is Denise Austin of famed workout DVD kind, like Jane Fonda fame. I have never worked out to a Denise Austin video, but I have seen her on morning talk shows back when I was a young mother and she was too. She is a successful famous woman who made a business and a name for herself in the fitness boom way before YouTube and Amazon TV. I picked up the book somewhat startled at myself for doing so. I am not generally interested in books like this screaming at me that skinny is the desired word of choice for my future body. Skinny coming from who has a six pack and her real breasts, probably still has her ovaries too for that matter. But for some reason there in the independent book store filled with my peeps and their natural hair color and birkenstocks I bent down and picked the book up. As my fingers made their way to lift the book I did look out the corners of my right and left side to see who might be witnessing because this book was a bit embarrassing to be seen with. Its cover not only screamed SIDE EFFECT: SKINNY, it had a disclaimer on the bottom. WARNING: Reading this book may cause thinner waistline, toned tummy, slender thighs & a sudden burst in confidence.
I laughed a loud. Denise, really? Did you just come from a time warped seventies Cosmopolitan magazine? For some reason I found myself opening the book to the peruse its pages filled with “Denise’s Tips for the first time!” Words like long awaited and redefining the word skinny showing us that “you don’t have to be rail thin to look gorgeous and live healthier.” I stood there speechless, but enamored with her in a twisted sort of way in what seemed like a very dated message. If I don’t have to be rail thin to look gorgeous, then why is she showing her rail thin scantily clad body as an example? She got my attention. As I read on in this granola book store , she, just in the jacket cover alone, used the word tummy and trim making me think I was reading a Good Housekeeping magazine article on keeping my man happy.
I decided to buy the book. I don’t know why. Something came over me as I read her encouraging yet dated words of wisdom. I felt like I was cheating on my entire female tribe by buying this book so I slithered over to the counter purchasing a second book that I could place on top so as not to be discovered by the gender neutral person at the front desk. Did she just roll her eyes at me? Did she think I was to be pitied for having the type of personality and self talk to warrant the purchase of this book? I wanted to let her know I was buying this book as more female research than as a diet book. I don’t believe in diets or diet books I wanted to say, but I didn’t because actually turns out I didn’t care what she thought about my purchase. What a relief.
When I got back to my room, I opened the book and began reading. I can’t remember the last time I read a book like this if ever, but I loved her enthusiasm for skinny, flatter tummies, smaller hips and yes she even used the word sexier (Helen Gurley Brown would have been proud). Her tips and lists of how to start this seven day fat blast diet (which by the way is twenty one days) is really designed for women or ladies as she likes to call us to motivate us with her cheery words who have a lot of time. Her Super Splurge lists on the mandated “cheat day” on the seventh day of each seven day run are foods I wouldn’t let pass my lips even on a dip into the dark side. Kit Kats, Hershey bars, “You may have anything you want on Super Splurge day as long as you keep it to under 1500 calories!” She proclaims like this is some anointing of goodness coming our way. Am I reading a Saturday Night Live skit? For some reason 1500 calories and Super Splurge seem to be on opposite ends of the reality spectrum. I forge ahead though for some reason I am sucked into Denise Austin’s approach despite its warped sense of reality. If my new gal pal Denise was sitting down on the couch next to me she would likely be saying, “Alayne, did you try any of it before you criticized my theories?” My reply would of course be no Denise, I haven’t, but I am open to giving you a try.
I really enjoy starting new food plans, I love the beginnings of them, the shopping to fill up my cabinets and fridge with all of the allotted foods from the convenient grocery list provided at the back end of the book. I love the Sunday prep day cutting and dicing and slicing the inordinate amount of vegetables to get my little plastic baggies ready for quick on the go snacking when I am running late (or starving because I have been eating vegetables for twenty one straight days whatever comes first). There is hope and starry eyed dreams of the twenty first day where the promises of flatter tummies and slimmer hips await. Her advice is counter intuitive to all of the Whole 30 advice I have worshiped mainly because it has worked for me.
Ditch the mirror, the hell with the scale, figure out what foods make you feel shitty (sugar, wine, carbs) and bask in the glory of not having to worry about how you look (because as a feminist and modern woman, looks shouldn’t matter) but how you feel, this is the desired goal. Denise on the other hand aims for us ladies to look skinny, to have flat tummies, which in turn will give us a sense of confidence we didn’t know we were lacking. She wants me to weigh myself at the same time every other day. I can’t remember the last time I got on a scale (which by the way could be the reason her exclaimed Side Effect: Skinny title got my attention. I don’t have to weigh myself to know I have gained weight since my surgery and let’s face the truth here, there is only so long I can use surgery and recovery as a scapegoat for my gain). Excuses and more excuses, but I read through her fat blasting plan with its prescribed daily commitments like morning stretching every day, Denise Austin’s super slimming seven minute walking training every other day and countless other lifestyle changes that require a full time job. But Denise manages to fit it all in and she has a multi million dollar fitness empire, so anyone can!
She has countless ways for us ladies (I am not exaggerating here when I say every time she uses the word ladies to motivate, I have a vision of Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale coaching her lovely handmaids to ready themselves for their “celebration nights” with their commanders in Gilead) to move even when we weren’t aware we could be. When we are talking on the phone, (walking the length of whatever room you are standing in), standing in grocery store lines (five tummy tucks), brushing your teeth (leg lifts of course) and about ten other possibilities I was completely unaware of until Denise and I met in her book. Denise in her happy blonde and sparkly way has made me realize that fitness and food planning can be a happy choice we make for better lives for all!
She believes in low fat everything. Has she read the sugar content in all of this lowfat? This is a bit of a shift from all of the otherwise rationale nutrition thinking I have been reading about since I had my first diagnosis almost four years ago. She believes in egg whites mostly, rather than those very fashionable egg yolks that have caused me to buy four dozen eggs at a time from my local farmer (6.00 a dozen thank you very much) She believes that Super Splurge days aka cheat days should consist of an array of shitty candy and fast food which she gives the calorie counts for. Two tablespoons of m and m’s, 1 reeeses, 2 small Halloween candy size Hershey bars, 1 small Wendy’s chocolate shake. Even when I have done a super splurge BD (Before Denise) it surely wasn’t with m and m’s. And even if it were, does smiley Denise think I am the type of woman who would eat only two Tablespoons of m and m’s? As I said though, I am going to give this a try to see if all of the promises deliver. The one thing about me is when I park my mind on a new food plan, three weeks is easy. Who knows, maybe I will be fifteen pounds lighter, thinner hips and flatter tummied. I don’t think a diet is going to make me more confident, though, I think building my own business empire, buying a 3900 square foot historic building on my own, three breast cancer surgeries in three years, not to mention two fabulous new tits, have secured my place in the confidence checklist.
When I first started seriously working out almost ten years ago, I couldn’t stand it, but I also was smart enough to know that the alternative was not an option. I remember telling Orlando who owns Complete Athlete in Bristol that I “hated” cardio, “hated” running and really didn’t want to be there. He was a patient trainer who had likely heard it all before and like my business of great skin trying to get clients to understand the importance of good skin care, he tried to do the same for me with physical fitness. I shudder at my language of yesteryear with the insight of hindsight. That I even used the word “hate” for the privilege of exercise is embarrassing. Exercise is indeed a privilege. Get started with it and then get it taken away and you will know what I mean. Some would and I would include myself in this in my past life loved the excuse of not being able to exercise because of a cold or the flu or something, but this is definitely not me now.
Definitely not me now.
The first time I decided to try out the gym that my partner went to, it was a barre class, lots of squats and Jane Fonda like squeezes; a safe bet for someone who thought she abhorred cardio. I couldn’t walk for about four days. This class, however gave me a bit of confidence and I decided that if I could handle a barre class, I could handle a cardio class and promptly signed up for a Sunday morning at Pulse gym with Jackie Lane. When I got to the class, there was only one spot left in the center of the room and that should have been a giveaway that I was in way over my head. Surrounded my waif-like Newport blondes in gorgeous athletic attire should have been a second giveaway, but I trudged in thinking, how bad could it be? It was that bad and about ten minutes into the warm up of old school grapevines, I decided that at that very moment it would be a good time to use the bathroom for a bladder empty whether I needed to or not. Perhaps that would shave about five minutes off of the next fifty minutes of torture I was actually paying for. I admit it; I caved after about twenty minutes. I did the walk of shame, having to blatantly leave the class as I made my way through the sea of super fit chicks who I thought were likely nodding at each other knowing that I wouldn’t make it. Of course this was not true, but it is indicative of my lack of confidence in the world of fitness at the time. Some would think that would have ended my dive headfirst into the world of psycho fitness. I mean we all know there are different degrees of fitness. Some people walk gently or quickly, some people ride bikes leisurely or sit on a spin bike on a sunny day pedaling like a lunatic. There is gently yoga and hot yoga and at the time there was Curves and there was Pulse and everything in between.
My partner, Michael is eighteen years my senior; this means that when we met the first time I was 22 and he was 40. Ironically, we met at the Newport Athletic Club working out together. This is where I also met my former husband so I have a history of workout attempts. When we reconnected the second time, he was 64 and I was 46 and as I exited the Pulse workout, something came over me that hadn’t before- a personal challenge to succeed at the workout I had just walked out on. I thought, Michael is super fit and if I want to really engage in this partnership, I must get myself to as close to his fitness level as possible to really participate in it. I needed to be able to physically keep up with him on those long and fast walks on Cliff Walk and not feel out of breath. So for some reason, I made it a personal mission to complete a Pulse class. I went back and tried again and again and again. Each time I went I pretty much couldn’t stand it, but I kept going until a shift happened. The shift happened when I decided to try a Beach Boot Camp with Kathy Martin. There I was at Second Beach in the morning sunlight before most people had even had their first cup of coffee with about forty other “campers” as they were anointed. The parking lot was filled with Volvos, Audis, Mercedes and everything that represents a high end car show. On top of this, each of us paid almost three hundred dollars for an eight week sign up meeting twice a week at the wee hours of the Newport morning.
As I began the first run in the sand past Kathy thinking “I am going to die, I can’t do this,” I ran by her smiley face and said, “I hate this,” with a tone like I was doing her a favor by participating in this self induced torture. Kathy could have replied with a yell, “Come on, you can do this!” Or she could have screamed, “Get running, fatty!” She could have barked like a drill sergeant, “What are you doing here then, go home if you hate it!” But she didn’t say any of those things. Instead she said, “I know.” I have no idea why those two words challenged me and created a complete mind swap. It was like she was one of us. Like she totally understood that what I was doing sucked, but that it was a necessary evil and that she was with me. So I came back the next time and the time after. I kept signing up for classes trying to get there early to get the coveted spot in the back corner in case I needed to do another walk of shame. I never needed it again. I kept going and seeing improvements in my health, my time, my speed, the size of the weights I grabbed. I changed my language from ‘I hate this’ to ‘I am so happy to have my health and grateful for my legs and my heart ‘as I made my way up and down the hill called Tuckerman Avenue. I began to love the feeling of speed in my running and began feeling like I was part of the tribe of people who regularly worked out instead of an imposter.
Little did I know that this foray into a love of fitness would ultimately be my salvation. People use my business of beauty as a respite from their busy-ness. I love that I get to have a business that provides a mind rest. What my business does for people, mostly women, is what Kathy’s business and Jackie’s business before Kathy has done for me. It has become my sanctuary. I smile when I walk in and I smile and laugh a loud when Kathy shouts out yet another crazy exercise move that I can’t believe I am doing. I absolutely love to be there. I am seldom down so yesterday when I walked in after learning of my friend’s death, Kathy knew I was off. I kept my head down because tears started to stream unexpectedly as I began pedaling. I couldn’t look up at her because I knew if I made eye contact I would lose it. I needed to go within to grieve in silence while the beat of the music pumped and pulsed. At the end of the workout, she made sure to connect because this is where she excels; she knows that her business is not just about the workout, it is about the human and often female connection. She checked in with me and we hugged and I let the tears briefly flow in our sweaty hug. I left knowing that this place I come to is my own place of beauty.
Later she sent me a text checking in with me. This is what makes her business shine in my life; it is not just the workout, this you can get anywhere. It is the attention to detail that makes me want to keep coming back. It is why I am as fit as I am now. It is why only a month after a double mastectomy I was able to safely walk into her class and take my time with total support of the entire class. I look for the spot in the front now, right smack next to Kath, knowing that I call myself the modifier as I have to adjust so many of the moves to fit my level of fitness for my upper half. And it is ok. I am safe and cared for here. Fitness has become a part of my life and without it, I am not who I am now. I cherish the privilege and I happily and joyfully do another burpee for the friends who can’t. Grateful for my legs, for my heart, my life indeed.
this was picture in my workout clothes a month after a double mastectomy. this is why i love fitness and am so grateful for my health.
“Of course you are going hiking when you still have stitches,” my friend, Julie Tremaine emailed me as we were trying to get together for a dinner date. I had casually mentioned my hiking and biking trip where I would be MIA for eight days as some dates I wouldn’t be available. Frankly, this thought never occurred to me, but there was some obvious truth to the statement as I got ready at the beginning of last week to be one with Mother Nature. So after traipsing all over the beautiful and color rich foliage laden towns surrounding North Conway with no cell phone and felt as good as I did, I assumed that I was back in full swing. Full swing meant that I could go on my favorite app and promptly sign up for a week full of workouts. Yoga at Bristol Yoga Studio Sunday with my goddess friend, Tracy, Monday at Pulse Gym for my favorite cardio weight class with my favorite instructor, Kathy Martin, Tuesday, a barre class, Weds a spin class and then a break Thursday and Friday. After all I had climbed over 25 miles on foot and ridden well over forty miles on bike on this beautiful vacation, I was ready to finally get back to my life. The yoga class was just what I needed on Sunday as always, it never disappoints. Followed by a bike ride on glorious Poppasquash Rd. through Colt State Park in Bristol, RI after hitting the market to fill my very empty fridge with a plush assortment of food for the week. As I got dressed for my first class back three and a half weeks after my final surgery, I actually forgot it was three and a half weeks after surgery and forgot to put on that support contraption of a bra the good Doctor had me wearing 24/7 for the first week post surgery. At my last appointment he told me I could cease wearing it because his work was coming along just perfectly (if he did say so himself, my words not his). So I stopped for the most part so as I got dressed yesterday for my first real kick ass boot camp style class, I actually forgot to put it on.
I walked into my familiar territory with my workout peeps and got set up in my preferred spot next to my workout idol, Kate and quickly realized that running in place, jumping in place, skiiers in place caused some upper body awareness I had not experienced in almost seven months. My breasts now moved. They swayed. They jiggled. This was a new sensation since for the past six months those hard bowling balls were as firm as a screw tightened by a drill. I had forgotten what moving parts felt like and I quickly came to the unfortunate realization that I should have worn the support bra. I slowed myself down, semi cupping my breasts using my hands for the support I should have. I started more low impact moves because I had no idea if my moving and shaking would cause this new silicone to readjust and realign in a way that may cause my breast to now become a part of my underarm or my collarbone. I just couldn’t believe I had been so foolish, but the fact of the matter was that I finally feel so great, I actually forgot. Forgetting even for a moment about all of this nightmare is definitely something I cherish even if it is fleeting.
Burpees, squats with overheads, bicep curls with situps, long jumping, chest presses, all seemed to be quick reminders that I shouldn’t be doing them so because I am not a person who has to prove anything to anyone except myself, I slowed down and made up my own workout. At the 40 minute mark, I decided that I had better stop this. After all I have my whole life to get back to my workouts. I didn’t want to set myself back. I was already moving forward at a great pace and I didn’t want to cause any reason to have to have another surgery purely for cosmetic reasons. Enough with the surgery already.
For some reason, some of my friends use the term supergirl or wonder woman. I know it is tongue and cheek, but I always cringe just a bit. It makes me feel like I am trying to be this super power force for some ulterior reason. I am not. I am not supergirl or wonder woman. I am just a chick who has a lot of energy, a lot of life in her and doesn’t want to waste a single moment not embracing its exclamation point. I like fitness because it settles my very busy brain. When I am not working out, I am not as calm in my head. Workouts are my natural Prozac. I don’t workout for any other reason- not for a kick ass body, not so I look better in a bathing suit, or a pair of tight jeans. Christ, I don’t even wear tight jeans these days. I am just so comfortable in my own skin, that I dress for comfort these days. It is hard to be in the beauty business and also represent the beauty world in yoga pants and Life is Good t shirts. But this is my honest truth. Comfort. With my lines, my skin, my body, my brain. I am not supergirl or wonder woman. I am just me and at 52 with my sporting new upper self, this is enough these days.
Kathy looks at me every time she sees me with that big bold smile of hers, eyes sparkling with those bambi lashes she wears and I am smiling. This is a big change from six years ago when I would otherwise flip her off as she shouted, “Eight minutes of burpees!” at the group when I didn’t even know what a fucking burpee was. Back then, six years ago, BC (before cancer and before about a bzillion other life events) I had the luxury of complaining about a burpee. More than complaining, actually whining about the hour workout that lay ahead, but for some reason was standing there thinking that this was a good use of my time. This was when I was working out because I was newly and happily entangled with a very fit boyfriend eighteen years my senior who was in way better shape than I was. I signed up for these classes of torture so I could actually think the eight mile walks on Cliff Walk with him on beautiful Sunday afternoons were joyful instead of walks of shame. Sweating and out of breath trying to keep up with my almost 65 year old new partner, after the first walk with him, incorrectly thinking that my walking workouts actually kept my cardio fitness worthy. They were not and I promptly needed to come up with Plan B for a better fitness routine or else there was no way we would be fitness compatible. The irony was that I met this beautiful man now in my life at the gym we all worked out at when I was only twenty three. I also met my former husband at this same gym and here I was twenty five years later. How ironic.
My attitude towards fitness all changed when I first went down to the end of the finish line to meet Michael after his run over the Newport Bridge. I couldn’t believe how much fun everyone was having and it planted a seed in me to do a 5k. Because he was my new partner and he loved fitness, he was super rocking encouraging and this was motivating. This connected me with Kath as I decided to take a beginner running class with her to see if there was any hope for me. I never liked running and the running class made me feel like there was a spec of hope for the possibility of at least kind of liking it. The running classes turned into gym classes and a bootcamp with Kath; smiling, happy and most important, kind and sincere, Kath’s morning routines began changing my mindset about fitness like I never imagined.
I wouldn’t consider myself a fitness nut, but I do love to workout now and this is one of the most bizarre sensations I have as I plow through my one hour classes. I take these classes, by the way, at a gym I drive forty minutes each way at least three times per week now. I have mentioned numerous times how fitness prepared I was (unbeknownst to me at the time) for my two “we caught it early” bouts with breast cancer. I am absolutely sure that my recovery, especially this last time, would have been much longer if my fitness was not what it was before I went in for this last surgery. There is something confidence boosting about being able to keep up with a group of mostly women who are like minded in sweating and jumping and moving in general. I have never felt as strong as when I am doing the ridiculous routines that Kath and her friend Kyle dream up for us. Routines, by the way, that have never been replicated. EVER. Every class is different every time.
This is not an easy feat, but the challenge has been life changing for me and I am eternally grateful for her optimism and kind spirit that has taken me on a road previously way less traveled. This road I am on with Kath is one of extreme admiration because I was never a work out kind of person. I mean I used to make fun of people who worked out at this level. I always thought walking fast was enough and I never enjoyed exercise the way I do now. There is something so liberating about completing the type of circuit class that Kath does, like the old days of drinking in our teens how we used to discuss our hangovers with some bravado, my friend, Morgan and I wear our workouts like badges of honor- way better than a hangover everytime.
I am not the type of person who you would ever think would be writing about my love for fitness. I didn’t grow up with fitness. Fitness was a chore, something you had to do, not something you wanted to do. My partner changed this for me by his stellar example of health. He never misses a day at the gym and what I have learned from watching him these past six years is that this as much about mental health as it is about physical fitness. For me, I can feel bat shit crazy at times and usually these times are when I am most easily drawn to brownies and chianti. The worst two things to keep my emotions steady rather than like a cyclone they can so easily become.
Exercise every single time keeps me in a calm state and grounds me like nothing else. (well almost nothing else, remember I am a proud med marijuana carrying citizen now) but from a health perspective, exercise and a fit body also mean a super fit mind and this is my preach to the female choir out there. We are being told day in and day out by every media outlet out there that we are depressed, we have anxiety, we need prescription meds to fix these problems, just a little pill. So much easier than a forty minute drive to the gym for an hour workout. Probably cheaper too since it is unlikely anytime soon that health insurance will be paying for ten packs of boutique boot camps. But what I know for sure is that there is no pill that can take the place of the euphoric feeling that happens when your body feels fit, and your mind feels clear. The feeling of your blood pumping and your heart working is something that no drug can ever do as long lasting as exercise. This is no longer about weight loss or having a tight ass. I am way past that desire. For me it is all heart and mind health, if the firm tight ass comes from this as the gravy (just as a reminder, my upper half is this now thanks to Dr. Hottie) then this is the added bonus, not the driver. When Kath looks at me and says, “Alayne, you have a big smile on your face,” almost like she is trying to figure it out, I am just thinking about how humorous it is to me that I am actually not only doing these crazy workouts, but that I love them.
I never complain about the workout because I am so grateful I can.
I have my next and hopefully final surgery coming up at the end of September, ONLY FIVE WEEKS from now, so game on to get my fighting lovely bad ass self back in the ring ready for the last round. Anyone want to join?
“Full arm side plank with opposite arm extensions using a weight to curl under your body and then fully extend your arm and back!” Kathy yelled happily like she was telling all of us in the sweaty smelly studio that the Frosty Freeze soft serve ice cream shop just opened. I am destroying her official description of the last exercise of our sixty-minute class, but at this point who cares. I watched her and I watched the class watching her as I stood in my safe corner in the front right of the studio, closest to the exit in case I had to do the walk of shame (aka the door out). I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes and I had to get a tissue to wipe them. This final exercise of the morning that my dear Kathy was enthusiastically showing us had me stumped for the first time in the class this early Saturday morning, my first class back after three weeks of gentle walks and easy movement. Was a modification even possible? So far, I had been using the treadmill for the cardio portion rather than the spin bikes, walking at a fast pace, using the incline at an eight or nine even attempting a slight, albeit old person shuffling, jog. For the never-ending weight portions, I used the embarrassing, but satisfying, two and three pound weights. Actually not embarrassing at all, I just had a fucking double mastectomy three weeks ago, survived early caught cancer twice, live cautiously knowing I have the BRCH 2 gene, I will, with bad ass pride, use whatever damn weights I want. There is no shame and I am so happy to be back in normal world.
Jumping plié squats with a weight? Not sure about my new post construction ta-tas, so I stand squat them rather then jump squat. Oh, Alayne, give one a try. Jump. Oh yeah, my new early stage boobs don’t move! I forgot! No problem, jump away! Burpees? Easy. Standing versions. Plank jacks? Mmmm let’s try some full arm planks on my knees. Yep. Check. Standing split squats, bicep curls, back lunges with side twists with a weight, front rows, (wait, I think that was my modification) all a big checkmark. Sit ups? I decided to try it with a bosu, (you know that weird half circle ball that some crazy ass fitness fanatic created for balance) for added support. Once down though, I forgot a few key issues, those pesky double eight inch incisions on my back for one, but also getting up from the floor without rolling over to get up, ix-nay on the sit ups at least for my first time back.
My first time back semi hiding in the corner, modifying almost everything was a whopping success if you ask me. First off there is so much truth to the phrase, “80% of success is showing up.” As I have written about on more than one occasion, going to the gym is so much more than a fit body. It is psychological satisfaction, emotional stability, heart happiness, soul confidence, a fit mind. The way I write about going to the gym may make some people who don’t know me think that I am a gym rat, an over achieving fitness freak.
The irony is I hardly ever seriously exercised seven years ago. Sure I toyed with exercise in my lifetime, I met my former husband and my present partner at the gym in my twenties at the first step aerobic and low impact classes. I played with yoga going to Kripalu in Lenox, Mass in my early thirties (before they had their “luxury” annex rooms and dorming it was the main option). I occasionally jogged, but my exercise was mainly walking and bike riding for pleasure.
I am not a gym rat. I was not a lover of physical exercise because how I grew up was you were either music and arts OR sports. So we went to museums, concerts, I played a musical instrument and physical fitness was for the other. What I am trying to say is that fitness was not instilled in my cellular makeup as a child except for my gymnastic classes and hula hooping. The way fitness showed up in my life was drudgery and a necessary evil. It was always surrounded with a negative connotation, like a chore so as a result I had a lot of cynicism when it came to gyms and over achieving workouts. Until I reconnected with my present partner who is eighteen years my senior. He is a fitness lover, loves to walk, run, bike ride, go to the gym. I realized quickly that if I was going to be fully present with this man in this relationship, I had better get some wind back in my body. So I began with the goal of a 5k and for the most part for the past six years have stayed with fitness.
I am completely convinced that fitness even more than diet is the reason I have been able to heal, repair and bounce back after three weeks physically and mentally. I like to say that we never know what shit will be coming at us, but it is highly likely that the toxicity we are surrounded with in our foods, in our environment and in our own self talk will result in some life changing physical ailment at some point.
I can’t stress enough how important exercise and a fitness routine is knowing what I know now. I also believe that what I eat is 80% of my body shape. So even though fitness has played a huge role in my going in and coming out of surgery, my food choices have and continue to play a role in the way my body shows up in the reflection staring back at me. I also know that life is life and that I have to live so exercise can never be compromised, but what I eat surely can as I continue to seesaw between my hard fast no sugar rules and jumping into my favorite pint of Susannah’s Ice cream from Sweet Berry Farm.
As I reread this, I realize that it has the potential of sounding a little preachy and that is not really my intent. My intent is to remind myself that the gym is a sacred privilege. I am reminded of an intense conversation I had with my beloved and very missed brother, Michael. Lying in his hospital bed in his apartment not able to move because cancer had taken over his bones and he was physically stranded at twenty four, he just wished for one more bike ride. He longed for one more opportunity to go outside and smell the earth, to see the sun, and smell our mutual love of summer honeysuckle as he looked at me feeling so screwed out of life. Obviously my health and cancer free world at thirty watching him lose his young life oddly wasn’t necessarily enough motivation to propel me into a strict fitness routine, goodness knows why, but it was a definite seed. It took me another fifteen years before I really got serious and fortunately it was well before I had a life altering diagnosis. For him, even though he had a strong fitness routine, it didn’t spare him, fitness didn’t even help his life quality, but his cancer was completely different and it wasn’t caught early. Maybe my father and my brother had something to do with mine being caught early, maybe they are having too much fun together and they are not ready for me to join them yet. I’ll take the extended stay on the earth though because frankly I am having too much fun trying to figure my shit out and I am not ready to give in. They had no choice so my life, my early diagnosis and my return to the gym gets to honor them and I feel so grateful to have at least one more opportunity.
My beautiful very fit very missed pre cancer brother, Michael and me with crazy Kathy before my double m (when I still had to wear a fitness bra, sorry lulu lemon)
TWO DAYS LEFT (now I will be caught up and things will be orderly again)
Today was my last day of my workout boot camp. Not for everyone else in the camp, but just for me because I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to do the entire camp this time and by now we all know why. What I love about my boot camp is it is like a real camp. I pay a large sum of money, I see the same people two days a week who also pay large sums of money to do crazy creative exercise activities together. We also get the shit beat out of us by a trainer who has also become a friend, mentor and inspiration. I consider myself in great shape, but these peeps I have been working out with on and off for at least five years make me look like a lightweight.
The camaraderie between people who pay separately for a private work out routine is really special. We seldom talk to each other because we are all so out of fucking breath for an hour, we don’t really socialize outside of camp, but there is a connection that happens that I really miss when I have tried to save money and go to a gym where you pay a normal monthly membership. My dear friend, Morgan says it is like spending $500 a pound. I don’t even want to calculate how much money She and I have spent on fitness in the last six years since I really started getting serious about working out thanks to my super fit life partner who is just about 70. He puts me to shame, but he has been a huge inspiring influence on me and my health. When I was diagnosed the first time around, I would have never recovered at the speed of light if it hadn’t been for my workout schedule and his awesome motivation for me.
When I first heard the words, “you have breast cancer,” my first thought was, what the fuck, I work out, I eat healthy, organic, grass fed everything, even wine and that is even biofucking $25 a bottle dynamic wine. (I know I am completely nuts and I still got breast cancer again so maybe I should just go to a box of wine… no OMG did I just say that?) I meditate, I have a positive outlook on life, I take care of myself. Once I went through my two surgeries and bounced back as fast as I did, I started to look at fitness from a different perspective. I realized that staying fit and healthy is partly to try to beat the system of a shitty health diagnosis, but even more important is to bounce back if you do get the shitty diagnosis. So while everyone is cheering me on to eat the fucking PVD rice crispy treat donut, it is exactly why I don’t eat it that I am able to be the fierce, courageous, you got this warrior everyone is telling me I am.
My friends at Pulse boot camp in Newport, RI keep me on my toes. They are stunning, kind, focused and hilarious. The workouts are in front of mirrors with weights and contraptions I never thought I would ever be using, doing, completing, paying for or enjoying. Yes enjoying. I love working out with this group. I modify just about everything and it is not because I am 52. The fact is that most in the class with the exception of a few young moms are over 52. Who else is going to spend $300, excuse me, $299, on a 8 week camp, 6 times a year besides fifty somethings?
I modify everything because after five years of this, I am officially in the ‘it’s good enough camp.’ I don’t need to prove my fitness, my muscle strength, my body fat percentage, I am good enough. I am ok with my curvy hip and my over 25% body fat. I don’t need to be in the scale stepping obsessed. Freedom at last. Working out taught me to love my shape, to not be so self deprecating, to be grateful for my legs, my healthy heart, my lungs, my arms and my stamina. The fact that I can do these workouts is good enough for me. When we are outdoors running or doing ridiculous amounts of stadium steps, I am so happy on so many levels. That I can do it, that I can pay for it, that I can also not do it by choice because it is good enough and I am too. Pulse workouts taught me this. I taught me this.
Kathy Martin, the craziest fitness instructor I have ever seen in the sense that she teaches like four classes a day and does most of them. She is not human, of course she has no body fat either, and her abs are the abs you think you can obtain by pulling out your old Jane Fonda workout tapes, but not even Jane had abs like Kathy. I am always smiling when I am in her class because she makes me so happy and grateful that I am there celebrating my healthy hips and ass and heart with every burpee, squat jump and plank jack.
The support I feel from this group even though we never talk about this bummer of a health prognosis I am facing is just motivation to keep being surrounded by their healthy beautiful bodies. Their ability to allow me to use my hour to escape from the upcoming mastectomy and let me just be a normal chick working out is a blessing and makes me really motivated to get my ass and my new tits back to Pulse pronto.
ZERO DAYS LEFT is fast approaching. I am nervous and I am sick of waiting. I just want to get back to my life. I am trying to surrender, to say it over and over again as I contemplate the change of my quality of life, the way that my openness about this experience will automatically make people look at my breasts as soon as they see me. The way I can hug people. That has never really happened before and it is strange to think about.
The women I have met who have had surgeries and who have been kind enough to share their stories, photos and experiences after surgery are always lifting their shirts up and showing me their breasts and asking me to feel them. It sounds like something I would probably be doing myself once I am in their situation, but the whole thing is so surreal. My surgery takes almost seven hours, for me it will be like five minutes, but for my family and friends, it will be a long stretch to have to wait for. When I wake up and look down, everything about my life will be different. Physically, sure. But no one really talks about the psychological changes that will happen.
What will sex and and intimacy be like, what will I look like in a bathing suit? Will I be able to run up second beach hill for my beloved beach boot camp? When I change at the gym, will I be self-conscious about the scars left on my back and my breasts? Will people who don’t know me think that I had cosmetic breast implants and why would that even bother me as I don’t usually care what people think about me. As I read this, I think I think too much so I must stop and take my own advice and surrender. I surrender. I surrender.
My rockin Pulse peeps. Kathy Martin is the one in the baseball cap next to me and my last vestige of real deal cleavage.