525,600 Minutes.

525,600 minutes... how do you measure a year?

(For all my fellow Rent fans that song is now stuck in your head. For that I'm sorry and you're welcome.) 

But seriously. That's how many minutes are in a year. How many things come and go in our lives through those minutes. One year ago today I was in surgery for 7 and ½ hours. That's 450 minutes. In those 450 minutes here is what my body lost and gained.

LOST: 

  • 1 7mm malignant tumor (IDC, ER+ PR- HER2- for those who understand what that means)
  • 2 size 34B/C breasts, they were real and they were pretty fabulous
  • 2 nipples (yes they warrant their own bullet)
  • 6 lymph nodes 
  • 2 ovaries and 2 fallopian tubes

GAINED:

  • 10 scars
  • 2 size 34C/D implants sans nipples, they are fake and they are weird but they're still sort of fabulous (and I'm pretty sure I didn't ask for the upgrade but no one seems to be complaining)
  • 4 drain tubes (luckily these were temporary)

For me this all happened in the blink of an eye. For those who loved me sitting and pacing the waiting room it might have felt a bit longer (sarcasm is fun). In the hundreds of thousands of minutes since that day here are some of the things I have also lost and gained.

LOST:

  • A false sense of control over my own body and future
  • A fear of flying (see above)
  • All the hair on my body including eyelashes and eyebrows
  • A dozen or so pounds
  • Generalized anxiety that affected me in many small but irritating ways
  • The need for birth control and with it that tiny little part of me that knew I could still have a child someday even if it wasn't in my plan right now
  • A little bit of my Type A status
  • My period
  • The ability to put up with anything or anyone that doesn't contribute positively to the life I want to live
  • The emotional weight of thinking I can change certain things that I really can't

GAINED:

  • The knowledge of how huge my network of support and love really is (that's you guys)
  • A lot of really awesome socks
  • Another scar
  • The gift of realizing that my idolization of my husband is truly warranted
  • Three tattoos that give me strength when I look at them and have taught me to own who I am, no shame allowed (#whatwouldbuffydo)
  • A love of bad hair days and shaving because HAIR is AWESOME
  • A sh*t ton of vitamins
  • Hot flashes
  • A renewed connection with some very important people in my life
  • A deepening sense of knowing who I am and where I'm going
  • A developing ability to accept the unknown (I said developing)
  • The fear and frustration of knowing that cancer will never truly be a non-issue again
  • The happily annoying use of YOLO because DUDE! YOLO! 
  • Joint pain everywhere
  • A hatred for ginger flavored anything
  • The knowledge that what I do have control over is everything that matters and I won't take it for granted 

Please don't read too much into any of these things. I'm in a good place (mostly) with all of these things, both losses and gains. I'm sharing them because I've decided living my life (mostly) transparently is what I need to do to keep moving forward. I believe that sharing my vulnerability and my strength is a part of my journey and I hope it will make a difference to someone else out there. There are some things I will still keep to myself to protect the identity of the innocent and to keep from putting too many graphic images in your head.

I can't say that I will ever call cancer a gift or be glad I had it. I don't like what I went through, what my family went through, or living with the "what if" that will always now exist. I still struggle with being completely comfortable with these new body parts and how they fit. But somehow I still find myself saying, "It's not the worst thing I've ever been through". I think back to the time leading up to my divorce, to choices I made and things I did, to losing my dad, to struggling to figure out who I am and why I am here. While I don't have all the answers now those times were tougher because they were the times I felt alone, whether I actually was or not. I can truly say at this point in my life I know I am not alone. Not here on this earth nor in the greater energy that surrounds and protects us. That is perhaps the greatest thing I have gained. Faith. Maybe not faith in the most traditional sense of religion or spirituality but the universe has shown me way too many signs during these last 525,600 minutes to not believe that we are all connected and that there is more to this life than we can see (#rigged).  

This did not all happen in the blink of an eye. It's taken time for certain things to evolve and I know I will forever be a work in progress. Those 525,600 minutes sure did go fast though.

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear...
525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year? How about love? Measure in love.”
— Seasons of Love, RENT

The Body Remembers...

 

Last week I got a tattoo.  

Given that I have several this didn't seem like it would be that big of a deal. I know the feeling it creates, physically, mentally, emotionally. I know how I process the sting of the needle, the buzz of the tool, the excitement of watching an image from my head come to life on my body, the momentary rush of both excitement and fear over the permanence, the acceptance and happiness of the finished work. I didn't anticipate this being any different from the others.

But the body remembers even when we do not.

It was the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and like many other things in my life I realized that while not planned, this was no coincidence. I felt wholly excited, anxious even, for my appointment. My original idea was to have it go on my arm but after working with the artist and messing around a bit we found a new spot - on my L shoulder leading into cover my port scar on my chest. While tattoos may seem edgy to some, those who know me know that I consider myself timid when it comes to them and my ability to flaunt or hide them as needed.  This placement felt bold and scary and I realized it made a statement. I loved it from the moment the stencil was laid despite the hasty decision of changing its home. And so before I could overthink it she went to work. Quickly, calmly, and kindly, she started by my shoulder and ended with her finishing strokes right over that scar that most days I didn't honor with much thought. And all of the same feelings were there - the pain, the excitement, the fear, the almost incredulous wonder that I was doing this again. I stood up and looked in the mirror and began to cry. They were happy tears but they surprised me. I didn't expect to have this reaction. I was aware of the date but had felt no real anguish over it. No need to acknowledge it more than to be aware of how much had transpired since that day last year and to be happy with how far I had come. A grateful hug, payment for service rendered, and on my way. Back to clients and work and business as usual. At least that's what my head said.

But the body remembers even when we do not.

In the car I started to cry. Big tears, sobby tears, a mix of grief and fear and relief. A catharsis I thought. An acknowledgment that maybe this date did matter and that I needed to grieve it a bit. That seemed understandable and so I allowed it to come and go as I went on my way, back in the studio, staring into the mirror peeling back the bandage with joy and trepidation. Client on the table, soft music playing, dim lights, this safe sanctuary that I've created for others but also for myself. This space that cradles me when I need it to and that I lose myself in often in the service of others.  

But not today. Because today my body remembered.

As my client lay there, eyes closed, enjoying being cared for, I launched into a full blown panic attack inside while trying to keep my composure and my rhythm. FEAR the size of which I've never felt washed over me like the icy waters that swallowed the Titanic. I wanted to run, I wanted to drop to my knees, I wanted to scream, I wanted to vomit, I wanted to never know the word cancer again. Feelings I'm not even sure I had when I first heard the news a year before demanded they be heard. I bit my lip and scrunched up my eyes while my hands kept working. I fought to retain control and do my best for the person so graciously sharing themselves with me. I focused on my breath and tried to rationalize my way out of this moment, these feelings. Was it regret? Focus on the tattoo, the word, the picture, the placement. Did it feel wrong? No, no, all was good there. So what was this? Where was this coming from? My body knew what to expect from this minor trauma so why was I near collapse? And as I probed my soul with questions, the answer came quietly from within.

From my body. In a whisper....

"My scar. That needle penetrating my scar. That bandage covering half my chest that feels so horribly familiar to two surgeries invading me with a little piece of plastic that's impact was so much more than its size. I remember and now it is time you do too."

They all told me I would love my port - it would be my friend and save the veins in my arm - the placement and removal would be nothing. They were wrong. It hurt for days when they put it in, the sticky bandages that assaulted my skin as much as the incision itself. I hated that bump in my chest that stuck out and never seemed to want to hide. I hated the smell of the lidocaine cream that numbed it so they could hook me up for hours to medicine I was grateful for but sent me on a physical and emotional rollercoaster for months. It was the right thing to do, they were right about that, but it wasn't my friend. It was a necessity and one I was glad to be rid of. And now as I felt that bandage covering my chest, as I felt the tenderness of the fresh wound of my own doing right in that very spot that was working so hard to heal, I realized that my body remembered when I had not. That one inch scar held the pain and the fear and the hatred for that plastic mountain that I never really allowed myself to express. I was a trooper, I smiled, I stayed positive, and I meant it. But I also didn't recognize that my shiny attitude wasn't the only thing carrying the weight of this experience. This body, this vessel that is the only one we get was poked, cut, prodded, sewn, glued, punctured, and assaulted in so many ways just so I could have the chance to keep it around as long as possible. And now it was sharing it's story with me. Making me remember emotions I let it carry for me when I wasn't strong enough to do it on my own.

In massage therapy we are taught that the body holds emotions. As a cancer patient we are told that PTSD is real and can happen to us just like it can a soldier home from war. Looking back I suppose it was hubris to think I could escape that day unscathed, that I was above or beyond a date on a calendar. It was egotistical to plan a day so full that left no room to honor an anniversary that mattered, even if it wasn't one I wanted to celebrate. I won't get into my dislike of the "battle" language often associated with cancer (at least not in this post) but in that moment I realized that my scars were more than just physical and there was a war going on within me. A hidden war of the self, one where control is an illusion, and releasing into all you feel is the only way to win and return home to ourselves. Not as we used to know ourselves but changed, perhaps for the worse, but perhaps for the better too.

I am learning that recovery is about more than healing scars that the world sees. It's about healing the ones that are hidden deep within too, and for that I am grateful that my body remembered.

 

 
 
The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes
 

"I'm sorry, it's cancer."

 

I remember someone once telling me you don't have cancer until someone tells you you do. 

It was one year ago today that I got the call confirming what had always seemed to be my worst fear. The biopsy came back and it was indeed cancer. It's strange to hear those words. I imagine it's different for everyone. Some people are floored by the news unable to comprehend the words. Others go numb in disbelief. For me, they were words I always knew would come and somehow hearing them was still very surreal.

I have what they call a BRCA1 mutation. This means that I have a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers - my body simply cannot fight off these particular cancer cells as well as most women. It "runs in our family" as they say and most of the women on my mother's side have gone through one or the other or both so it was something I generally anticipated in my life.  Of course I HOPED I might be the lucky one that somehow it would bypass me but when your odds are 87% statistically and pretty much 100% within my own family, well, you kind of assume the worst.

The funny thing I learned that day is that, as with many things in life, sometimes the fear of something can be worse than the thing itself.  It sounds odd to say that about something as serious as cancer. I mean it's CANCER for god's sake. But as many times as I had feared that moment - imagining it in my head and worrying about the day it would come - when it did come, it wasn't the life stopping moment I imagined.  I'm not gonna say it was easy - my husband and I sat there together holding hands with me on the phone receiving the news. And yeah we teared up and hugged each other after thanking the doctor and hanging up the phone. But as we looked at each other and sat there thinking what do we do now, it occurred to me that all we could do was keep living. It was 4:30 on a Monday and he had a golf league game and I had a client to get to and I simply couldn't see the point in not doing either of those things that night. I knew there were going to be days coming when everything would change, when we would have to rearrange schedules, deal with sickness from treatment, and face the fear.  But in that moment I said, you go golf, I'm going to work, when we both get home let's go out to dinner and figure this out.  And that is what we did - over dinner and drinks at our favorite spot, we exhaled from holding our breath for the last three days waiting for the news we now knew, and we laughed and we talked and we stared at each other and we started the process of figuring it out.

Some may say it was shock, others might call it "fight or flight" mode where you just keep going. I like to think that somehow deep inside I knew that at that moment all we had was that moment. All any of us ever have is this moment we are in. We can spend hours, days, even years worrying about what will come. And we can spend hours, days, and years worrying over what has gone. But those hours, days, and years are made up of these moments. This present moment that is all any of us are ever guaranteed and hopefully lucky enough to recognize. So no matter what you might be facing, stop, breathe, and realize that no matter what may come next you have this moment and it's yours to live the way you wish.

I am no different than anyone else who faces a major life challenge. I am not better, not stronger, not braver, not more prepared. I am no less scared, no less angry, and no less uncertain about what will come. What I am is open to the peace that can come when I focus on this moment and let go for even a few seconds. Whether you call it giving it up to God, or trusting in the Universe, or relying on your Guardian Angels, it's about faith. Faith that somehow it will all be ok and that I damn well better enjoy this moment because it's the only one I can count on.  And even in the saddest or scariest moments of our lives, the fact that we are alive to feel those emotions is such a beautiful thing.

Yesterday is already gone. Tomorrow is not yet here. Today is the only day available to us. It is the most important day of our lives.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
 

The Big C

 

(original post from 8/23/13)

Death is a scary thing. And yet it is one of the most uniting things that human beings can experience because, let's face it, there isn't one of us yet who hasn't died. And, like it or not, I don't expect that to change any time soon.

As I've begun to expand the number of clients I see who are either currently facing cancer or living with a cancer history, I've been intrigued by some of the reactions I get from people, often by other massage therapists. I've been asked, how do you do it, isn't it depressing? Don't you get scared? Why do you want to be faced with illness so often? And honestly, every time, each of these questions has taken me by surprise.  I guess to me it seems so obvious. But perhaps it is my reaction that is surprising to many and not the questions they ask. Perhaps I do need to offer some insight to my personal reasoning and let you form your own thoughts on the subject.

I began to explore the niche of oncology massage right after graduating from massage school. My family has its share of both survivors and those lost to various cancers and I guess the idea just intrigued me on a personal level. At the same time I found myself working with a dear friend who was all too quickly dying from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. I'm not gonna lie, it was scary on all fronts. I had to learn how to be strong and supportive and professional for my friend while dealing with my own emotions of losing him. Through my training for oncology massage I had to learn about types of cancers and corresponding treatments and all the good, bad and the ugly that can accompany both. And of course, with all of that, I had to start to face my own fears about illness and death. I had to look all of that information square in the textbook and recognize that yeah, it could happen to me. It truly could happen to any of us.

So maybe there's the easy part of my answer. Maybe that is one reason why I do it. Because if and when it comes for me, I hope I have a support system the size of Texas that not only includes family and friends, doctors and nurses, and a host of really poisonous drugs to beat the crap out of it, but I also hope there are people who are willing to face their own fears to be a support to me. Me the whole person. Not just the part of my body that needs to be treated to live, but the whole entity of me that needs to be treated to survive and live well, or perhaps even, to die well. If you look at it that way maybe the reason I serve others dealing with cancer is because I hope my time and efforts, if needed, will some day serve me back. 

I'll admit there is another reason, less karmic, more in the here and now, and to me it seems even more selfish than the first. 

There is a show called "The Big C" where the main character is dying from cancer. That's the premise of the show. Morbid eh? But you know what? It's not. In my view, this show captures the sadness and the scariness of dealing with a life threatening illness, but it also shows the humor and love and hope that can still exist despite one. And with almost every episode (especially the further in you get) I watch and find myself laughing and crying and feeling frightened and scared and hopeful and humbled all at the same time. And those feelings, having all of those seemingly conflicting feelings in the same moment, makes me feel even more connected to my life and the rest of the human race. It breeds gratitude within me and helps me to appreciate this life that I have right here and now, in all of it's messy emotional glory, regardless of what may come.

And so that's the other reason of why I am in oncology massage. The reason that wasn't the initial draw but is what has drawn me further in. To me it is an honor and a humbling experience to serve someone who trusts you enough to be a part of their life while they are living it: good, bad, or ugly. I laugh with these people and care for these people, and sometimes, on the inside or after I go home, I might cry a little too. I have only lost one client to cancer out of many who are currently beating it or are now considered healthy and cancer-free. So does that sound depressing? To share a human experience with someone that let's me leave a session wanting to cry and laugh and pray and hope all at the same time? Maybe it does to you and I can respect that, but not to me. To me it is a gift. It's not for everyone, but right now it is definitely where I fit.

To all of my clients who entrust their time, their bodies, and themselves with me, whether you are fighting the Big C or blessedly, perfectly healthy, thank you. You give me the gift of enhancing my life every day by sharing yours with me.

With joy and ease,
Amy

"Unbeing dead isn't being alive." 
~ E.E. Cummings

If you would like to learn more about how therapeutic massage might help you or someone you love who is facing a life threatening illness, please contact me and we can discuss your unique needs.

 

With joy and ease, Amy

 

(original post from 8/3/13)

It seems trivial but for a while I found myself searching for an email "tag line". You know, that sign off that people often have, be it "regards" or "warmly" or even the most formal "sincerely". When I was in the corporate world I often went with "best" and in my personal life I adopted "be well".  

In the world of bodyworkers you often find these to be a bit more elaborate or much more personal. I admire the people who are comfortable signing off with "love," regardless of their relationship to you, but I'm honestly just not there yet (outside of those to whom I would actually say "I love you"). One of my favorites already belongs to a friend - "all things good" - so I really don't think it would be appropriate to snitch that one! The grandest I've seen is "basking in the vast ocean of pleasantness", which began to make a whole lot more sense once I entered the world of the Trager Approach (intrigued? more about Trager to come in a future post!).

What if mine isn't catchy enough? Or what if it isn't relatable enough? "Be well" is fitting and lovely but I suppose I was hoping to find something that feels more personal. And so I tinkered. And I thought. I thought about what is it I'm trying to communicate to people with this closing. What am I hoping to send out to them from within myself? And I started to realize what I have come to experience as I've transitioned into my new career... the consistent feelings of joy and ease.  

Life is easier and more joyful now then it was a few months ago. Not because this work isn't hard sometimes but because even when it is, I am still at ease, and filled with joy.  It's scary to know that there isn't a steady paycheck coming in but still I greet each day joyfully, even the ones without a client scheduled. It can feel overwhelming to know that I am the only one responsible for what I get done as a self-employed entrepreneur, yet I can still find ease knowing that I will ultimately figure it out in the end. And on those mornings, or in those moments, when I'm not sure what I'm doing or the fester of doubt creeps in, I can remember these two words, these two feelings, and I am able to pull them out from deep within and find the ease and joy again.

Will an email signature really make a difference for the big picture? Will my friends, family and clients "get it"? Maybe, maybe not.  It seems a little silly to put so much thought into something that could be wrapped up with a simple "thank you."  But to me this email closing feels powerful. It feels representative of a new phase of my life and so I have embraced it.

This is who I am now and I'm learning to not only feel it within but to also express it wholeheartedly. To accept it. To celebrate and share it. Life can be joyful and life can be easy if we let it. Not every minute of every day, but yes, at some point each day this is the way I feel. This is what I hope to share with others, through my work and through my presence. So this is what I'm wishing you - both joy and ease in some part of each and every day. Forgive me if this seems a bit of an unconventional way to say "sincerely" but it's what I feel and for that I'm grateful.

With joy and ease,
Amy

"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world..."
- Louis Armstrong
 

So, what do you DO?

 

(original post from 7/1/13)

It's a common question. You meet someone and are making small talk and they are trying to get to know you. It can be a large part of how we define ourselves. It makes sense that it always comes up. You know the question.... "Nice to meet you, so what do you do?"  

Being from DC I'm used to this question. It is the nation's capital after all, and it's full of important people and people who think they are important and work seems to matter around here, a lot. Until recently it never really occurred to me to think too much about my response. But not too long ago I realized I was experiencing a major shift in how I would come to answer this question.

I have been really lucky to have a variety of great jobs in my lifetime. Some have paid well, some have been a lot of fun, and some taught me valuable lessons, even at the cost of my stress levels. But up until recently if you asked me what I did for a living, I would give you a simple answer of "oh I do xyz for company abc" and move on to another topic.  Because that summed it up. The job, be it finance, or retail, or human resources, was just that, a job that I performed.  Something I "did".  

As I was going through massage therapy school and still working full time in my office world, I found myself having to give two explanations.  "Well, you see, I do human resources and employee relations for a small government contractor, but I am also a massage therapy student and plan to move to that profession full time, hopefully soon!" It was such a subtle shift. Do you see it? I only had to change one word and it happened subconsciously.  

I am a massage therapist. For me, massage therapy is not something I "do", it's actually who I am. I AM a massage therapist. This work I do has become a piece of what defines me. I can go on and on about the things I've learned and am continuing to learn. I can endlessly discuss anatomy (or more likely just start rambling at length about some body part until I get a deer in the headlights look and realize I need to wrap it up). I find myself staring at people as they walk down the street, mesmerized by their walk, trying to figure out what is causing that slight catch in their left hip or noting the very fine gastrocnemius definition of the woman in high heels (sorry there I go again!). And all of this fills me with giddy excitement.

For the first time ever, I not only have a job, I have a calling. I have entered a profession that I love and something inside of me has actually shifted. That is purely amazing.

I hope this doesn't sound discrediting to all of my old jobs because they did have their purpose. In fact, I know I wouldn't be here without them. And for every person out there getting it done with a job that's "good for now", well, good for you. It doesn't make you less of who you are. It's just that this somehow now makes me more of who I am.  I am a massage therapist.  And for that I am profoundly grateful.

With joy and ease,
Amy

"If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time."
- Joseph Campbell
 

It's kind of like riding a bike

 

(original post from 6/25/13)

I recently realized that I have been standing in my own way of achieving one of my goals.  It's something that happens from time to time, and it often goes unnoticed, but this time I was lucky enough to take a step back and see that the roadblock holding up my progress has been, well, me.

I've never blogged before but when I recently rebuilt my website I decided I really wanted to give it a try.  I purposefully chose a site builder that had a simple blogging page that I felt would allow me to easily get started.  And start I did.  I drafted several different blog posts over a pretty quick period of time.  I have continued to jot down ideas for future posts as they jump into my brain and I even begin crafting them in my head excited at the prospect of sharing these ideas with others.  And yet here we here are, June 25th, and until now, I haven't posted a single thing except "Coming Soon!" and that was almost a month and a half ago.  So what's that all about?

I'll admit it.  I'm terrified.  And intimidated.  The world is full of really good bloggers, both personal and professional (I'm friends with several).  They are witty and engaging.  They bare their souls or share expertise from their field and their writing is something for even this former English major to envy.  So how can I jump into that same pool and expect to have a presence that matters?  It became easy to find excuses not to hit "publish" on those drafts or to find other things that really needed to be done first.  I would get around to it.  But I didn't.  Until today.

You see the problem with standing in your own way is that deep down you know you also have the power to get out of the way.  In fact you are the only person who has the power to move forward whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. So let me digress for a minute (I promise I'll bring it back around).

I've had a long time goal of becoming a better bike rider and commuting to work on my bike.  I bought a bike a couple of years ago, a really sweet hybrid, and I rode it around my neighborhood all of about a dozen times.  In two years.  One day not too long ago I realized that the only way to become a better bike rider was to actually start riding my bike.  So I did and today I completed my third official commute to work as a "cyclist" (ok maybe I can't go that far).  I even did that AFTER riding to and from yoga class.  So that was a double whammy commute in one day!  

I'm not gonna lie, it's not pretty.  I would love to be one of those leisurely beauties in a dress cruising down the road with their hair blowing in the breeze and flowers overflowing from their wicker basket.  Nope, I wear my helmet and my pants are rolled up kind of funky because I learned about what happens when pants get caught in a chain.  I know I'm not a great rider so I don't go in the street unless there is a dedicated lane, which puts me on the sidewalk a lot constantly stopping to let pedestrians have the right of way.  I'm not the badass cruising down the street like a dolphin shifting between water and air with effortless ease.  But I am riding.  And with each ride, I get stronger, I go faster, and I'm more confident in my abilities.  With each ride I am more comfortable on my bike and how I fit into everything around me.  And on my ride home today, feeling pretty proud and accomplished, that's when it hit me.  It's kind of like riding a bike.

So here I am.  This is my first official blog post.  My hope and plan is to share information about massage therapy, self-care, a bit about who I am and who knows what else.  I love the work I do and the people I work with and I believe this blog may provide a valuable outlet for me and (hopefully) an interesting resource for others.  And I hope that with each post I share I will become more confident in who I am as a blogger and how I fit into this world around me.  

So I ask that you give me a chance as I begin to navigate these bloggy waters and hopefully we will discover wonderful new things together.  I appreciate your support and invite you to stay tuned...

With joy and ease,
Amy

"Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone."   -Robert Allen