The first slap

The first slap
This photo was taken the day after I was diagnosed, and it is my first bitch slap at cancer. I'm the one with the icepack symbolically placed on my boob. My teammates changed our team's uniform to pink at the last minute, and I came off the soccer field that night with one goal and a whole lot of love. Several of these women are my close friends, but they are all warriors, and they all helped me set the tone for this fight.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tadasana: Mountain Pose

I like contact sports. I find it quite satisfying to get shoulder-to-shoulder with people as we duke it out for ball possession. I don’t mind getting knocked down occasionally, and I thrive on the cardiovascular exertion. That said, I’ve started taking yoga classes to help alleviate some of the muscle and connective tissue problems I’ve been experiencing due to surgery and radiation. News flash: yoga is definitely not a contact sport. I keep hoping to find a form of yoga that’s a bit more, well… active. I’ve attended a “yoga flow” class, which does cause a bit of perspiration, and “rocket flow” and “disco hot flow” are, apparently, things in the world of yoga. But so far I haven’t found a form of yoga that is sufficiently rigorous to give me my contact sport fix. I keep fantasizing about “body slam punk yoga” or something—a form of yoga that would rival roller derby, where I could take on a tough and dangerous yoga identity like “Bitchslap Swagatron” or “Badassana Mama.” I can hear the live broadcast of a match now: “Look out, folks! Here comes Lady Namastectomy, moving seemlessy out of warrior pose as she shoulders Her2Neu off her mat!”

In reality, I kind of suck at yoga. But I’m getting better in both mind and body. Each time I practice I become a bit more flexible and more capable of centering myself on command. At first I could only achieve a simultaneous centering of body and mind during shivasana, the final pose at the end of yoga practice, in which full relaxation ensues. (Shivasana actually means “corpse pose,” evoking a metaphor that I don’t want to explore right now.) But lately I’ve come to find that centeredness in tadasana, or mountain pose. The root of the word comes from the Sanskrit tāḍa, which means mountain, and āsana, which means posture. It is a foundational pose that is meant to align the body and center the mind in order to prepare for the next pose. (For a photo and more info: For me, tadasana is at the same time strong and calm. It is standing still, but with muscles activated, at the ready. It is in that momentary space of active calm that I become prepared to take on whatever comes next.

This is very appropriate today. I received my final Herceptin infusion in the Carle chemo suite, and this Friday I will have my chemo port surgically removed. When I first had my port inserted in December 2013 and soon after began chemotherapy, I viewed my treatments as a necessary and even oddly welcome process--a brutal series of bitchslaps meant to subdue the cancer and send it packing. But these treatments have also felt like a series of invasions, from the surgical implanting of the port itself, to all the needle pricks for blood draws and infusions, to major surgery, and even the radiation, which, although painless, penetrates you. Even the cancer itself felt a like an invasion, despite that fact that it consisted of my very own cells gone awry—the ultimate treason and betrayal. These invasions have been both physical and mental, breeding moments when I felt as if I was losing both body and mind. Decentered and unglued. And yet…

There is also something about a nasty process like cancer diagnosis and treatment that is centering. I’ve often heard people say, “cancer changed me,” and even, “cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” That last one seems like a stretch, doesn’t it?  But I know where those sentiments come from. They come from a sense that things are now different, or perhaps from an altered vantage point from which everyday things seem to take on subtly different qualities, becoming just a bit more beautiful or inspiring. Nevertheless, the notion of perspectival change—viewing the world through new eyes—doesn’t quite do it for me, and I think that’s because it’s calm without action. Don’t get me wrong—the ability to see things in a new light is not easy, and it is not to be dismissed. Indeed, I have experienced a shift in perspective, and it’s awesome. But you know me: I also want active. Tadasana.

The way I understand it, tadasana doesn't give people a generic strength (or calm, or grace, or whatever). Rather, it prompts me to summon my own strength, in its own form. It doesn’t center me. I use it to become centered. In other words, it is both calm and active. Tadasana is an agentic stance. 

In some ways, tadasana (whether it’s an actual yoga pose, or a broader metaphor for how I now feel) triggers my internal GPS, sending my thoughts simultaneously inward and outward to engage the multiple points of love, care, and goodness that ground me, that let me know who and where I am: Craig, with his warm touch, smiling eyes, always-good heart, and endless love—my ultimate passion. Mom and Dad—always there, on the sidelines and in the stands, in my genes, and in my heart—true bridges over troubled water. Patricia and Vernon: magical combinations of parent/friend, and also there for Mom and Dad because they need those bridges, too; I am a better daughter because of them. Evan and Nate, my thoughtful, creative, bright, and healthy boys who rock my world; who have already made the world a better place, and who will surely continue to do so. The rest of my family and all my friends: You lift me up, pure and simple.  

This will be my last post on this blog. I’ll keep the blog live for any folks who wish to revisit it, but I’m done with this pose and ready for my next challenge. Tadasana. Bring it!


I couldn’t work this excerpt from my favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver, into my post, so here it is for you in it’s own glory:

            Last May, I saw a dragonfly as long as my hand—longer than average-sized songbird. She circled and circled, flexing her body, trying to decide if my little lake was worthy of her precious eggs. She was almost absurdly colorful, sporting a bright green thorax and blue abdomen. Eventually she lit on the tip of the horsetail plant that sends long slender spikes up out of the water. She was joined on the tips of five adjacent stalks by five other dragonflies, all different: an orange-bodied one with orange wings, a yellow one, a blue-green one, one with a red head and purple tail, and a miniature one in zippy metallic blue. A dragonfly bouquet. Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe.
            What to believe in, exactly, may never turn out to be half as important as the daring act of belief. A willingness to participate in sunlight, and the color red. An agreement to enter into a conspiracy with life, on behalf of both frog and snake, the predator and the prey, in order to come away changed.

-Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson, p. 268

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Penultimate Infusion

Okay, I don't even know how long it's been since I posted on this blog. I think the increasing periods of time that pass between my posts is an indication that I may close the blog down in the near future. But I'm not ready to do that yet. I've been holding off until my treatments are completely finished, and today is my penultimate Herceptin infusion. Three weeks from today will my last, and then on March 13th I'll have my chemo port removed.

I started Herceptin (Trastuzemab) on December 9, 2013. The standard course of treatment is to get Herceptin for one year, but I was not able to get Herceptin during the three weeks prior to, or post surgery last march, or during the eight weeks I was getting Adriamycin and Cyclophosphomide last spring. So, we had to add those 2-1/2 months back into the timeline.

One thing (among many) that I have come to understand through my long strange trip through Cancerland has been the significance of multiple milestones, both big and small. Well, these two coming up on March 11th and then with port removal on the 13th are big ones! But they won't be the last. I am taking an aromatase inhibitor for five years, and will have occasional check-ups with my oncologist during that time as well. I am currently considered to be in remission, and they don't call the cancer cured unless it stays away for five years. So, that will certainly be another very important milestone for me.

In the mean time, I am simply loving life. In fact, I don't know that I've ever been this happy. I'm busy at work, finished my book, enjoy seeing the kids growing and loving their lives, have started learning yoga, and am playing soccer. And those are just some of the obvious things. It doesn't include the littler and more mundane stuff--stuff that seems breathtaking when you stop to notice it. Sunlight on geese taking off from the pond, a hug from Craig, Ben and Jerry's, an awesome new chicken casserole recipe, a clear crescent moon in a hyper cold night sky, baby kale, Dolores' big brown eyes and her mini tail-tip wag, sparkly snow crystals, Glassy Babies, a stranger's smile, that cool moment when you wake up and don't know exactly which day it is, a new pair of boots, the first sip of coffee in the morning, a Facebook invite from an old friend, a really juicy clementine, the anticipation of a road trip, ....  Fill in your own blanks here, and appreciate all of them.