Decisions, desensitization and desert-island drugs

Little man, on recovery day one. So tired. Made it to the dining room table, and not much further. I get it now.

Little man, on recovery day one. So tired. Made it to the dining room table, and not much further. I get it now.

My son was ill all last week. Everything hurt, and he sounded like a frightened seal when he coughed. I have been watching my students drop like flies with this killer flu they gave all sorts of creative names, including ‘bone flu’, which I thought sounded very exotic and suitably frightening. I tried getting him to go to school one day last week because I didn’t want to miss work (my eldest son found this very confusing) and when he cried his way into the parking lot yelling MY BELLY HURTS AGAIN I knew I had to park him in the office, arrange for a supply teacher and take him home. Battle lost. All week I marvelled to people at work about how I haven’t been sick since chemo – not a sniffle – and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I should be knocking on something-or-other to make sure I wasn’t jinxing my good fortune. I didn’t.

Guess who’s sick?

Yep. And as refreshing it is to be just-plain-old-sick instead of glued to the couch recovering from chemo, radiation, or surgery, It kind of sucks to be missing work right in what is supposed to be my transition back to full time. Thank goodness for Advil cold and sinus, my desert-island-drug of choice, and a house full of quiet that I can sleep in.

And hey, why not catch everyone up on my latest decision?

I finally saw the local surgeon for my second consult. I meant to go into the appointment with my decision firmly made, but the truth is I waffled back and forth all month wrestling with the pros and the cons of both the Diep-flap surgery and the Latissimus Dorsi flap surgery. The fact that I had gained almost 15 lbs in hopes of having the Diep flap surgery done, and was still told that an implant would likely be necessary anyway was starting to lean me toward the back flap, but it wasn’t until I sat down with the doctor and he started talking to me about the possibility of blood supply microsurgery being risky because it was possible that there could be damage done to my blood vessels┬ábecause of radiation that I landed firmly on my decision. I just can’t take the risk of another failed surgery. I can’t face it for several reasons, the biggest of which being I simply don’t think I’d be okay after another reconstruction fail. Latissimus Dorsi it is.

So. I walked out of his office, with his very reassuring failure rate of 0% in mind, and a whole lot of space created in my head, which had been very pre-occupied with all of that waffling back and forth.

When I was diagnosed, I said to my mother and sister that we would all get a day or two of mourning, of tears, and then I needed my team. And I sure got it. In spades. That team carried me through that entire year plus of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and the aftermath of a reconstruction fail.

Tanya's 'Tigers' - it's funny; I was going through a bag of clothing my sister was going to give away a couple of weeks ago, and this t-shirt was amongst several gems I snagged. She picked it up, looked at me and said 'You don't want that.' And I answered 'No. I don't'. And away it went.

Tanya’s ‘Tigers’ – it’s funny; I was going through a bag of clothing my sister was going to give away a couple of weeks ago, and this t-shirt was amongst several gems I snagged. She picked it up, looked at me and said ‘You don’t want that.’ And I answered ‘No. I don’t’. And away it went.

Now, I find, I need to build a different sort of team to pull me through this next phase of healing. And making my decision to stay here and have the local surgeon do my reconstruction surgery was a big part of that. I trust him. My mother trusts him. I have spoken to one of his patients who speaks very highly of his care. I know other people who have dealt with him and have spoken highly of him. He thinks what I went through in Winnipeg was barbaric. This makes me like him even more. I don’t think he’d cut me open on a table hidden from the hallway of an outpatient clinic by only a curtain. I know that if anything went wrong after surgery he wouldn’t leave me to residents for care. I need to go into surgery trusting this man. He is bracing me mentally, physically and emotionally for the biggest surgery done at our regional hospital. It will be 8-10 hours long, and the recovery will be about three months. It’s a big deal, and there will be no trivializing any of it with him. I appreciate that.

Next on my team is the clinical psychologist I just started to see, who has confirmed the PTSD diagnosis and feels strongly that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy will do wonders for me. Used on police officers and soldiers with much success, it won’t make me forget what happened. But it will hopefully allow me to put it in the past, where it belongs. I have told him I don’t think about it consciously that often, but I need my body to forget, because I seem to be always crouched at the ready for the next hit. It’s good to know how normal this all seems to him, and to have someone give weight to what still seems like a very surreal experience to me.

Team member #3 – a physiotherapist in town that is known as ‘The Body Whisperer’ on my staff. On my first visit to him, without seeing my body, as I was covered in a sheet, he put his hands on my stomach and knew that I had had C-sections. He did some work on my fascia, and the next day, my incision sites, which have been scorching hot since my very first surgery, were cool to the touch. Yep. I’m a believer. I have been seeing him twice a week, and already I feel much more relaxed. That keen tension / pain between my shoulder blades that prompts me to push myself into door frames and jam tennis balls between my back and a wall to try to release some tension is significantly lessened. I told him I noticed the other day that I only aimed for one door frame, which I found amazing. I know he’ll get me ready for surgery, and I know he’ll be there to help me recover as well. I’m in good hands with him.

Walking again. Doing yoga again. Reconnecting with that part of me that's really been missing since I went back to work.

Walking again. Doing yoga again. Reconnecting with that part of me that’s really been missing since I went back to work.

And finally, Team member #4. Me. Now that I’ve made the decision regarding surgery, I can lose this weight. I can go back to doing the things I love so much. I did yoga every single day last week, and already I feel stronger and more like myself. I started tracking my exercise and food in an app called My fitness pal, which makes me feel purposeful and like I’m taking control of something, which I have very much needed. Things have been taken out of my hands so often in the past couple of years. It’s so good to turn to mindfulness and point myself toward solid ground┬árather than treading water and having no idea where to find land. I know it’s a big buzz word right now, but the practise of being in the here-and-now, and consciously trying to stay there and fully experience each moment – mindfulness – is really helping me right now. This book is now full of my usual sticky-note jot-notes, and one of my favourite analogies in it thus far is on rushing.

I like this book because every chapter is written by a different author. All sorts of interesting perspectives woven into a tapestry.

I like this book because every chapter is written by a different author. All sorts of interesting perspectives woven into a tapestry.

Rushing does not particularly have to do with how fast you are going. You can feel rushed while moving slowly, and you can be moving quickly and still be settled in your body. Learn to pay attention to this feeling of rushing. If you can, notice what thought or emotion has captured your attention. Then, just for a moment, stop and settle back into your body: feel your foot on the ground, feel the next step.” – Joseph Goldstein –

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do. Settle back into my body. Feel my feet on the ground. Take the next step.

Oh – and for a bit of levity, a friend of mine (in the above team photo with curly hair) brought me a sample of a product called Mixed Chicks, which kind of tames my frizz. It may seem trivial to you, but the freedom to sometimes wear my hair curly is pretty exciting for this girl!

This was my first attempt - and a pic I sent to my friend to say I didn't totally hate it!  Some people get a different colour, some people go grey, some go curly after chemo. I, obviously, went curly.

This was my first attempt – and a pic I sent to my friend to say I didn’t totally hate it! Some people get a different colour, some people go grey, some go curly after chemo. I, obviously, went curly.

Perfect timing! This little package just arrived at my door.

Perfect timing! This little package just arrived at my door.