That year of learning to fall in judo class has saved my life and health, and only now do I realize that it was also a wonderful mental health exercise too. Learning to fall. Learning to let go and fall correctly so you don't hurt yourself when you land. I was mad at the time. I signed up for judo so I could be glamorous Emma Peel and beat up bad guys without messing my hair. Instead I learned the best thing of my life. How to fall. So you can get back up again.
Sunday morning. Considering my altered future this morning. I'm still absorbing that fact, altered future, and my mind goes back to it on the slightest excuse, the way a kid worries a loose baby tooth with their tongue. That is me and thoughts of pension, insurance, sickness and death. I don't think it will stay with me like this. I think I will worry it until it looses it's jagged edges, until it gets smooth and falls out, and then I will worry the hole where it was until I am comfortable with the new reality. That's what I think will happen here. With my poor sore breast as well as my altered future.
Yesterday I did a bit more work around the house. I don't have two people spoiling me anymore. I don't have someone to talk to all day long. Time to get back to real life. I'm surprised at how much I sat back and let my sister fuss over me. I'm surprised at myself. I'm surprised at how easily I fell into that. Now I have to go back to standing on my own two feet. It’s good for you. For your overall outcome and general physical health as well as your emotional maturity. Fighting. Standing up and fighting for yourself. Going to the store and getting the foods you want to eat, the juices and snacks that you like. I did that through the worst of the chemo in the worst of the winter weather. Now there is no juice in the house, no coffee for the big machine, I'm down to just the Nespresso machine. I guess I better step up to the plate more now, take care of me more now. I don't have sister to fuss over me anymore.
My mission for yesterday was to clean up the mess I had made pulling out stuff to show my sister, my summer clothes, knitting projects. Plus the sheets and towels from when we did laundry. Piles of mess all over the house. That is done. And it feels good to get it back to 'normal' mess. I have the top of the bedroom dresser cleared again, wool hats are put away, my office desk top is cleared, I'll be able to do some paper work on Monday. I went for the mountain park walk all by myself yesterday. I really have progressed a lot. There was a food truck parked by the park and I bought two of their amazing lemon tarts. Two for $4.00 a good deal.
Later on in the day, after my nap, after most of the cleaning was done I was in the guest room and saw an envelope addressed to me and my husband. A nice thank you card from my sister. And she gave me her Koru ring. She said she wants me to have it. "I want you to have this ring as the "Koru" in New Zealand symbolizes new beginnings, growth (yes you will have to shave your legs again) strength and peace. As you continue to recover I wish all these things for you. Thanks for being the best sister and friend that you could ever be."
It's a beautiful ring. The Koru is the shape of a fiddle head, the curled top of a fern. Spring. I guess it's an early spring sign in NZ as well as here. Ferns, as old as the dinosaurs, but still around. Unlike the dinosaurs, ferns are still around.
My hand looks like my sister’s when I am wearing this ring. And then I see my wrecked fingernails. I've been through a lot. Even if they don't hurt anymore you can see the damage now. Funny, when they hurt the most they looked perfectly fine. Now that part is over you can see the brown, and even white where the nails died and started to lift off the skin that they were supposed to be protecting underneath. When I see the extent of the damage on all my fingers I am surprised that I didn't complain more at the time. What good would it do? It was the choice of that, or dying. Even that was a small complaint in that context. It will take time for this visible nail damage to grow out. I can paint over them in the meantime, it doesn't take much to cover it up either.
And I realized that I really am moving into a new stage. I feel more complaint over the stickiness of the leftover adhesive that I can't really scrub off under my armpit. This is not any kind of real problem, it is just annoying but now I am feeling like I dodged the death bullet enough to be annoyed by stuff that won't kill me.
Funny, all these side effects, from the surgery, from the chemo, and never once did I feel a drop of pain or discomfort from the cancer itself. This is the difference between me and my brother and our attitudes towards our cancers. His cancer made his life miserable. It messed up his plumbing and made his life miserable for years before it was diagnosed. That is why he hates it more. My cancer never did anything bad to me, except getting me into all this chemo and surgery and radiation. The treatment has been the only bad part so far. The cancer itself did not bug me at all. If I had just stayed the way it was I could've easily lived with that cancer for the rest of my life, just like that. Of course it wasn't going to stay like that. We were planning for the future with all this aggressive treatment. We still are.
I remind myself that I am only in the pause. The real story will come out at the beginning of June, when I meet with the cancer doctors again. Both on the same day. That will be the big one. We won't know if this cancer will start up, has already started up someplace else, but we will know more about it's makeup and it's nature, and if there were cancers cells that escaped or were in the margins of the surgery. Those are the things we'll know then. They'll have the whole tumour to look at.
And what is left is my new breast. It is a weird shape, reminds me of a loaf of bread stuck crosswise on my chest more than a breast. It has a flat top. It is soft and breast like though, and with a shirt on, without a bra it looks 'normal' It is the same size as the other breast and hangs the same way and the loaf like quality disappears under my arms or where ever. From the outside, even now, with stitches in, tape across the top, swelling in odd places, it still looks like a normal, matching boob to any casual onlooker seeing me out walking wearing a shirt but no bra. I'm sure that part will only keep on getting better and better as the stitches heal, the swelling and bruising go down. I think the empty part where he removed tissue will settle down and it will be less like a loaf of bread and even more like a normal boob. Hopefully they won't have to do any more surgery on it, and hopefully the radiation won't damage it too much. Hopefully it can just stay this way. No I won't get a nipple reconstruction. But yes, I might get a fun little tattoo. Down the road. In the future. Six months from now. In the fall. Just one more season to get through. I've been through three seasons so far. Fall, winter and spring. Summer has started in earnest now. Just summer to get through and then all these 'normal' afterward things can start happening.
In the meantime I have this odd boob. And it's sore sometimes, periodically, but I'm not sure if that's the boob or the lymph nodes. I've started to do some simple exercises on my own. That very first night when I saw my hand was swollen I started to work my hand, I started to clench and unclench my hand. Now I can do more. I put both arms straight out in front of me and clench and unclench. My old judo exercise. How long ago did I learn that one? How long have I been doing that one. I was in high school, around granddaughter’s age. I took Judo lessons at the Y because I wanted to be like Emma Peel I've been doing that straight arm fist clench ever since then.
I wanted to learn to fight, but they spent a whole year teaching me how to fall first. That year of learning to fall has saved my life and health, and only now do I realize that it was also a wonderful mental health exercise too. Learning to fall. Learning to let go and fall correctly so you don't hurt yourself when you land. Learning to fall instinctively. What does that mean? It means you learn the tipping points, you learn when you've tipped past the point of being able to catch yourself and you realize that you are falling. Getting your body into the right position for each kind of fall and relaxing into it. Tensing the muscles that need to brace you and relaxing the rest. Being wise in your fall. Accepting the fall and surviving it with the least amount of damage. I spent a whole year learning to do that. I was pissed at the time. I wanted to be Emma Peel and beat up bad guys, be glamorous and tough at the same time. Cool and ferocious. Instead I learned the best thing of my life. How to fall. So you can get back up again.
My brother’s outward, public appearance did not change much through all his cancer treatments. His hair didn't fall out, his nails didn't change colour, his skin didn't get big rashes, and he didn't go all puffy. He still looked pretty much like my brother. The only real change in his appearance is when he shaved off his moustache. And that's a pretty normal thing that has nothing to do with cancer.
I have been calling pride my worst failing. But like all sins and blessings it's a two sided coin. Pride is also a strength. Pride got me up walking. Pride got me into the grocery store buying my own damn juice. Pride got me going to the laundromat doing my own damn laundry. Pride is not that bad. I let my sister care for me. She went to the grocery store, and the flower shop, and she first helped me do laundry, and then just did my laundry for me. She cooked. She cleaned. She watered my plants. I just let it all happen. I just rested, napped, walked, talked. It was good therapy to talk to her too. I told her everything. She knows my whole cancer story. It is worse than she thought. Stage three. That's not something you say to a loved one over the phone if you don't have to say it, if they don't ask. But I said it this time. I want her to know and have realistic expectations. And I was there to answer her questions, to keep talking, to explain my point of view, to explain how I feel. So she'll know, if things start happening and she is far away and we can't really talk like that, then she'll know what it was, and how I felt and why I am making the decisions that I might have to make. We've done that big conversation. She was shocked, and glad she was here, and I'm sure glad to go home and get away from it.
I've gone through the surgery. I'm on my own again. My sister has gone home and left her ring with me, a token.
I still have my arm. It's a bit of a mess with left over allergy scares, some actual allergy pimples still healing, yellowed damaged fingernails, and internal problems too, that ache in my veins, achy armpits. But it's still my arm. It's not this big swollen thing hanging off my shoulder that I have to hold up with my other hand. That didn't happen. I can still put a ring on that hand. It's still my hand. I can still type with it.
Today I'm going to start knitting again. Today I'm going to go back to the granddaughter sweater. It's late in the season for a sweater like that, but it snowed in the foothills last week, so there is always a place for a sweater like that out west. I'd like to finish it. Even if I don't mail it to her for her birthday, even if I hang onto it, and do a whole fitting with it instead, I'd still like to finish it so I can move onto other projects.
So today. Now that I am coming back 'online' as an independent person who has to take care of herself. I am going to have the good bath again and continue to work on all the leftover adhesive from the dressing, just keeping things clean and letting the actual stitches get this regular cleaning and rinsing, gently for now. But good that I'm sitting in the tub, using the sprayer and going ahead and doing it. It takes time. I need to be alert not to slip and hurt myself. And then a walk. Either the mountain walk or another walk in the other direction. A nap. Naps are still working for me. My mission is still to get my health back as much as possible so that I'll be in better shape for the radiation. And then a trip to the grocery store. I'll get coffee, juice, snack things for me, perhaps a favourite cheese or meat product. A bottle of wine for a spritzer this afternoon as I listen to Tapestry on the radio and do my knitting? That would feel like a real back to my old life Sunday afternoon.
So that's the general picture. Gradually getting my life back.
Dispatched: May 12