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