Sticks,stones and splits (Or, how I find out if my kids are paying attention too)

So today started out really well. Early wake-up, a quiet morning to look forward to, and finally, the perfect time to start this read, a magic collection of pieces that, like all of Edward’s work, strive to remind us that we are surrounded by beauty, if only we would stop and pay attention, as he often says.  I received this signed copy in the mail, and I’ve been waiting for the perfect morning to start it. If you’re looking for something to sweep you away this summer, consider this.  And maybe strive to believe him. Which, for the record, I do.

Amongst the stories  I've read so far, there's one about a bra wall in New Zealand, something that makes me want to see the Hudson River, the hierarchy of bears in Alaska, and trying to find the quietest place on earth, a concept I find fascinating, This is the author whose writing sent me to France last year.

I’ve worked very hard at trying to share that particular lens with my boys. I want them to pay attention. Sometimes, when I forget, they remind me to slow down and and notice things too. This morning was all about slowing down and paying attention, to this book and to myself, reading in a long, decadent bubble bath with coffee on the side of the tub and then curling up in my favourite chair by the window and doing more of the same. I rarely have this time to myself, and after finishing up a lunch-break-free month of June finishing up Grade 8 Graduation plans and execution and bringing their yearbook to its (albeit flawed) completion, three hours to indulge in quiet reading felt like a gift from some sort of god today. It was a good start. And then the day split.

I feel broken a lot. I’m working at changing the way I see myself. My scars. I’ve even been thinking as of late that I should take a deep breath and put myself out there a little bit. Maybe, you know, even go out for dinner with some fictional man who finds me interesting. The thing is, that takes an enormous amount of courage at this point, and I haven’t been in possession of said courage. Yet. But it’s been coming – I have felt it sneaking up on me as of late. Being off anti-anxiety meds for several weeks now has me feeling like I’m waking up a bit. Ready to see what’s out there.

But then I was reminded that I was broken today, when a friend admitted he would not likely date someone who had lost her breasts. Kick in the stomach. Certainly not because I want to date him. I don’t. But it was put out there. And now I know it’s out there, you know? I know there are people out there who date people based almost entirely on appearance; I just like to think I spend time with people of a slightly more enlightened nature. So I took this totally unprocessed information home with me, and my kids, when they came home from doing this,

My boys, paying attention.  Their Dad took this photo. He was obviously paying attention too.

My boys, paying attention.
Their Dad took this photo. He was obviously paying attention too.

knew right away that I was a little off, and asked what happened. So I told them, in very general terms, about my experience, and they were, bless their little boy-hearts, properly outraged on my behalf. We had a lovely chat, and I’m so proud to know these two boys. They’re messy, and they empty my cupboards faster than I can fill them, and they’re not much on bathing, but man – they’re good people. I think my experience will help to shape them, too. For the better.

I picked up some rocks again today, and put them on my steps. I don’t want to let the ugliness of today take away from the pretty I got to see. They really are quite lovely. And, you know what they say about sticks and stones…

Sticks and stones...

Sticks and stones…

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Timing, togetherness and tiny bits of brokenness….(or, why I’ve decided not to have surgery right now.)

“Our wholeness doesn’t bring us together”.  – Richard Wagamese

As soon as I sat to listen to this author speak I knew I had landed in the right room at exactly the right time. Out came my notebook, so that I could try to remember the lines that flowed out of him with such ease, and wound their way directly into the living, breathing bits of me. Richard’s story is terrifying, shameful, sad, frustrating, inspirational, beautiful and empowering, all at once. He tells the story of his trauma with grace, with strength, with beauty. He tells the story the way that I dream of telling stories. When he said that it isn’t our wholeness that brings us together, but the broken bits, I wanted to weep. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I felt relief. I felt hope. Because he’s right. For me, he’s right, anyway. I remember the persistent phrase ‘I know something you don’t know.’ playing over and over in my head, silently, but always there, once I was diagnosed. Being broken, in whatever way that may be, carves out some depth that allows you to understand others who are also broken. Who have had to put themselves together again. Who may have to do so down the road, again, because, as Richard so eloquently put it, sometimes there is a tiny “untended little bit of brokenness” that decides, unbidden, to rise up and stop you in your blissful tracks.

He also spoke about the perfect combination for him – the two things that helped him through his healing – ceremony and therapy. Right away I knew my perfect combination: Forest bathing, and counselling. I’ve continued to walk every day, getting stronger and stronger, and talking things out with a counsellor once every few weeks. It’s working.

I know it’s working, because gradually, over the past month or so, I have thought a great deal about healing. About getting stronger, physically and otherwise. About moving forward. About feeling hopeful. Consciously changing the way I speak to myself. About believing in my strengths and focussing on what makes me happy. My physiotherapist gently suggested ‘There’s no such thing as too much healing.’ Again, I wanted to weep. To stand up and cheer. Because I want more healing time. I need more healing time. I need to change the way I see myself in the mirror, and change that from ‘broken’ to ‘healing’. To ‘stronger than yesterday’. To ‘strong.’

How can I do that if I allow myself to be cut into again in just over three months? How can I allow my body – worse, force my body back to square one when I’m just starting to make progress?

The answer has come to me gently and slowly. It’s simple. It’s obvious. I cannot. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But definitely not yet.

Richard looked at us and pronounced: “I don’t want to be resilient anymore.” And I understood. I don’t want to be constantly tapping all of my resources just to survive. I don’t want to be ‘handling the pain really well’. I don’t want to be popping painkillers every four hours so that I can function with my children. I don’t want to launch myself into another potential disaster where I’m on antibiotics ten times over the course of a year. I want to heal.

And then:

“There’s a field out there where I can bark and laugh and play.” 

Right?? I want to bark and laugh and play! (Well. Maybe not the barking. But you know what I mean.)

Actually, depending on what the moon is doing, there could be some howling. But I digress.

So. My surgery was booked for September 4th. I haven’t cancelled it officially yet. But I’ve decided that’s happening tomorrow. And I will tell my surgeon that I’m not ready. That I don’t want to rebook at this point. That I will let him know. And I will decide when and if it happens. When I want to have the operation. I will take control of this one thing.

I will be okay with, maybe even celebrate, the reality that it is not our wholeness that brings us together, but the chips and cracks and scars and stories.

I had a lovely moment today on my walk. The bottoms of my feet and my shins were screaming at me. The pavement is hard on my feet. So I moved over the 30 cm I needed to in order to walk on softer ground. And my body answered instantly. Yes. That’s what I need. A soft place to land.

Softer places.

Softer places.

Caves, cacophony and catharses (Or, yay Spring.)

I have to. I should. I need. I can’t. Of course.   I want. I don’t want. I can.

This is the basic message that has been floating around in my head over the past 24 hours or so. Banishing these phrases from my daily vernacular, twisting my brain around, stretching it this way and that, rearranging thought patterns. How fascinating to realize that somehow over the course of my life I have learned never to buy a lotto ticket because I’ll never win, never to roll up the rim on a Tim Horton’s cup because I’m not lucky, never to repair things that need repairing in my house because I can’t do home improvement. How I cringe at the word selfish, and physically recoil when it’s suggested that I practise saying I want. That I use the refrain ‘of course’ when things break down in my car, or my dishwasher, or my fridge. Because obviously, if something’s going to go wrong, of course it’s going to happen to me. Cacophony.

How cool is it to call bullshit on all of that?

Seriously, though, this therapy thing is amazing. Everyone should do it at least once in their lives. Even if for no other reason than to have someone sit across from you and help you stretch your brain. Because I’m telling you, it’s like massage therapy for your head.  Sure, it hurts a bit to get to the really tight knots. And some knots are way more stubborn than others. But when those knots release – ahhh… relief.

So my goal right now is to see if I can work toward eliminating that awful negativity from my self-talk. It’s a word game. I’m good with words. Challenge accepted, and all of that. So maybe more than one goal.

Move. Pick apples (the stretch I do faithfully three times a day that has allowed me to reach the top shelf of my spice cupboard without a chair). Create space. Breathe.

Move. Pick apples (the stretch I do faithfully three times a day that has allowed me to reach the top shelf of my spice cupboard without a chair). Create space. Breathe. This was taken on the day I was two years cancer-free. Yay. Still here.

Another goal involves sort of an unspoken agreement I’ve made with a friend. Move. Not houses, necessarily, but our bodies. Often. Consistently. Purposefully. And it’s quite beautiful.

It's difficult to say 'I can't' when looking at beauty like this.

It’s difficult to say ‘I can’t’ when looking at beauty like this.

Yesterday I had what could arguably be the most perfect kick-off to a weekend. Physiotherapy at 3:30, counselling at 4:30, walk around a lake at 6:00, pasta and wine by 7:30. When I told my therapist that I had some bruising after the last session and that I felt like I’d been hit by a truck the following day, he winced and asked if he’d gone too hard on me. I assured him that he had not. The same went for yesterday’s session. Hard work. A little bit of bruising today. And tomorrow, I know I’ll feel fantastic. He assured me that everything he’s doing is good for me. And it is. I can feel the change in my body already. It’s a slow process, but when I realize that it’s been awhile since I pushed myself up against a door frame in an effort to dig the frame into my muscles enough to provide some release, I know good things are happening. Yesterday, during our walk when I told my bff that I had just finished those two appointments, her reaction was ‘Whaaaat?? Why would you do that to yourself??’ because she knows how much pain both can cause. My response: ‘Are you kidding me? It’s the perfect way to start a weekend!’ Space between my shoulder blades, space in my head. Bring on the weekend.

We have walked over 80 km in the past two weeks. Almost daily, between 5 and 10km, clearing our heads, and getting stronger. Today, I went for three walks outside. One, 5.6km around the lake – the box-ticker of a walk that says I’ve exercised for an hour, which is, according to my oncologist, as effective as chemo. The two others, to play. To bring a friend to see what someone brought me to see a few days back – the seemingly impossible ice cave over rushing water. Seeing how much less ice there was today (twice) compared to a few days ago begged some reflection. Ice, stuck there for months (and months) of winter, freed and then melted by the rushing of water, and the persistence of sunshine. It lines up well with what’s happening with me. My body has been stuck, and is gradually being freed from what has felt like a cage. My mind has been stuck, and there is space being made there. Still some ice left to melt, but I can see that once the freeing process starts, it can happen quickly. The key may be to see the beauty in all of those stages.

Under the ice cave. It won't last long. But we walked on it today, in 18 degree weather. It's stubborn.

Under the ice cave. It won’t last long. But we walked on it today, in 18 degree weather. It’s stubborn. And very beautiful.

IMG_5440

In front of the ice cave. Last week that tree was surrounded by ice. Today, it’s almost free. I kind of like that.

I might go back tomorrow to check on its progress. Because I want to, and I can. I should don’t want to do laundry instead. I need want to do this.  And so I will.

Cleanup, catharsis, clarification. (Or, Spring clean-up ain’t just for basements)

The mess starts small.

The mess starts small.

Yesterday was a big day for cleaning. On a couple of levels. My best friend and I made a deal this March Break – to keep our activities local and explore the messy parts of our city, and to help each other purge the contents of a messy part of our houses. I helped her out with her office, which she will transform into some sort of creative space. Creating comfort out of chaos. She helped me clear out my storage space in my basement, which resulted in the pile of junk above being removed from my space. Whew, right? With her help I was able to lift furniture upstairs, rearrange my living room so that we actually want to live here, take away two broken vacuum cleaners, because it would appear that my house is where vacuum cleaners come to die, and create some order in my storage space. Everything in its place. Matching storage containers, labelled with words that actually match their contents. This may seem like simple child’s play to those of you who are by nature organized, orderly and innately neat. Those of you who always have someone nearby to help you lift things don’t ever have to glower at a large chair sitting, useless and unused, in the middle of a storage room. Count your blessings, folks. The chair that I am now blissfully sitting on in my living room spent a couple of sad years in the dark in the bowels of my house, longing to be brought to the light. But such is life. I digress.

Something happens when you start to purge spaces of junk. The mess gets bigger.

Well. While I'm at it... I suspect this pile will continue to grow over the course of my weekend. Hurrah.

Well. While I’m at it…
I suspect this pile will continue to grow over the course of my weekend. Hurrah.

And that’s what happens with messes. Once you clean out one space, you look around and notice others that need cleaning. And it’s a long process, and the process seems to get longer as you go, but the light at the end of the tunnel gets a little bit brighter. There are cleared surfaces to shine and polish.

Which brings me to yesterday’s session. I showered, got myself dressed to go to my EMDR therapy session. Felt compelled to tidy up my living room and kitchen before I left. Needed to make some space in my head before heading to work on easing the trauma from the surgeries that happened, wide awake, almost exactly two years ago. Clean up that mess.

Well. That’s the thing with messes.

‘So. What are some discreet moments that we could come up with to work on in our EMDR sessions?’ (Or something to that effect.)

‘Discreet?’

‘Like traumatic?’

‘Like anything?’

Oh boy. Well. That’s messy, now isn’t it? Talk about needing to clear out some spaces. I guess when you look back on the past fifteen years of my life there are a few ‘discreet moments’ that could probably get pulled out of the basement of my brain and thrown out to the curb.

Well. While I’m at it.

There are surfaces to shine in my house. There is room; there has been space created. There is a place for good things to happen.

And now it’s time to create some space for positive things to happen in my head. Time for cleanup, clarification, and just maybe some cathartic change. We all have our own ‘discreet moments’ – piles of memories and messes that get pushed into the corners of our brain to be dealt with later, or not at all. And sometimes, those piles get just a little bit too big, or there are just too many of them, and we have to steel ourselves for the messy clean-up process. Brace ourselves for what’s under those piles. Prepare ourselves to deal with the messes we’ve forgotten. And clean them up. Get rid of the trash we don’t need.  Organize the messes worth holding on to, label them appropriately, and put them up on shelves, and make some space for good things to happen.

Here goes.

So I sat down to read tonight…

I have a new book-club read to conquer. Looking forward to tackling one of the Canada Reads choices – The Inconvenient Indian. I have read some other Thomas King stuff, and I’m so happy my book-club-cohort decided to lean in my direction and choose this one.

I guess I'll start it tomorrow?

I guess I’ll start it tomorrow?

When I read, I am an avid ‘stickier’, meaning I read with a pencil and a stack of stickies in hand, and I take notes the entire time I’m reading. They can range from ‘rolled my eyes a bit here’ to ‘WRITE THIS SHIT DOWN’. Whatever the end of the spectrum, these days those stickies are necessary, because I DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING. (That’s a topic for another blog.) So. I went from top to bottom in my house, and much to my dismay, no stickies. Notebook it is. I’ve collected a few of those over the past couple of years. Many people thought (knew) it would be a good idea to journal during my treatment for breast cancer. Some of those journals now hold lists at work (which is really quite appropriate because I need lists everywhere these days, because I’m back at work and I DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING.) Wait – did I already say that??

Thanks, Martha. xo

Thanks, Martha. xo

Anyway. I grabbed the brown suede journal that’s been sitting unopened on my bed-side table for, well, quite a long time. Apparently since my first Taxol treatment. I often think of the Red Devil as the worst part of chemo, but maybe that’s just because someone gave it a catchy name at some point. Taxol, as it turned out, was way harder on me. I took one treatment, and stopped writing. Maybe I didn’t want to go through the daily ritual of writing down the pain I was in, or the pain that had kept me up in the night. Maybe I just went into survival mode for the second half of chemo, or maybe I just got really good at it and stopped needing to document it. It’s too bad though. Because really, I REMEMBER VERY LITTLE.

Yep. Last entry in the journal. Up until this point I kept track of temperature, weight, side effects, medications, meals, all of it. After this: nothing.

Yep. Last entry in the journal. Up until this point I kept track of temperature, weight, side effects, medications, meals, all of it. After this: nothing.

So this prompted a little trip down memory lane, and some introspection about how far I’ve come from that particular day, and that particular month, and many of the months that followed. Needless to say, I’m not reading tonight. A few weeks ago I went on a quick weekend road-trip with my bestie, and for about a zillion reasons I felt normal. It marked the first time that I went out and met new people, and didn’t introduce myself as cancer girl. I was just Tanya for a weekend, and it was awesome. Also, I got to meet the chef of my favourite Winnipeg restaurant.

This is the chef from Deer and Almond, a restaurant I always make a point of Winnipeg, which is, thankfully, much less frequent these days. I was a wee bit starstruck.

This is the chef from Deer and Almond, a restaurant I always make a point of Winnipeg, which is, thankfully, much less frequent these days. I was a wee bit starstruck.

I’ve just started my third week back at work full-time, which is most of the reason I haven’t sat down to write as of late. These are some full days, folks. (Did I mention I’m now teaching my son?) There was fear leading up to my return, which seemed to sneak up on me and make me feel like I was cramming at 6am for an 8am exam that I had forgotten about. I didn’t feel ready, I wanted more time, I wanted to feel fixed before going back, the insurance plan wasn’t cooperating, I was worried about teaching my son and his buddies, and it was all very very noisy in my head. Long story short, I decided to stop fighting on the Friday before the Monday I was scheduled to return. I didn’t want to return, get back to my class and then leave them again. I didn’t want to mess with the (very patient and lovely) supply teacher who had taken my place for six months. I, frankly, needed to create some space in my head and make a clean decision. Return to work, full time. And do the best I can at it. And I can honestly say I have done that. This is a big week. Almost exactly two years ago I went for a biopsy, during which the nurses were wonderfully reassuring, telling me that most of these lumps were nothing to worry about. Almost exactly five days after that, I was diagnosed with cancer and my life flipped on a dime. That was quite a March Break. I’m really hoping this one will be different. Lots of sleep. Lots of bed head. It’s pretty fabulous.

IMG_4619

The bed head is getting taller. This is progress.

This is a long trip, I am finding out. I’m thankful to still be on the voyage.

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 because 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 rather 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.

Namaste, mutha*&^%as!

It’s been so, so long.

I went back and edited the ‘About Me’ section of this blog the other night, and almost took out trail running and hot yoga, because it’s been such a long time since I’ve done either. But I left them, because I do love those two activities, for very different reasons but also for similar ones. Trail running. Finding a rhythm, inhaling three steps, exhaling three steps, navigating rocks and roots and mud and snow, ducking under branches and jumping over streams. It’s a primal connection with instinct and endurance, with the woods and the landscape. I haven’t completely put trail running on the back burner, and I’ve definitely been to the woods quite a bit over the past couple of years, but hot yoga was actually forbidden until at least the fall, and frankly I have put it off since because I was anxious about being able to get through a class, and I couldn’t find a shirt that I could be comfortable in in all those bendy, bent-over, folded up positions in a room crammed full of sweaty, cleavage-y, fit, long-haired women. (Have you seen some of the women who do hot yoga? It’s kind of inspiring. Or enraging. Or maybe both.) Also, my hair was a concern because there is no escaping a good full body sweat in hot yoga, and the last time I attempted a good workout it was at the trampoline park and my hair curled so tightly to my head because of my efforts that I had no choice but to cover my head with a toque for the remainder of the evening, and there really is no toque option in hot yoga. So I’ve been putting it off.

Last week I woke up having dreamed about yoga. And running. And I decided it was a sign of some sort of readiness, and so I went shopping, in the hopes of finding a shirt that, unlike the lovely breast-revealing variety that is à la mode in hot yoga, covered me enough to allow me to move freely without being distracted by the possibility of  inadvertently flashing my scars while warrior-child-or-downward-dog-posing. That variety of yoga shirt is actually pretty tough to find, in case you were in the market.

This shirt actually made me miserable when I put it on and fitted it with its 'accoutrements', which are, unfortunately, rather heavy for a shirt of this fabric, and kind of settled somewhere in the middle of my chest in one mushy lump. I wore a t-shirt instead. But I thank this shirt for being a catalyst. I will put it away for post-reconstruction hot yoga.

This shirt actually made me miserable when I put it on and fitted it with its ‘accoutrements’, which are, unfortunately, rather heavy for a shirt of this fabric, and, also unfortunately, kind of settled somewhere in the middle of my chest in one mushy lump. I wore a t-shirt instead. But I thank this shirt for being a catalyst. I will put it away for post-reconstruction hot yoga.

So. I booked a spot for today’s hot flow class, and started the pre-yoga panic. Upon arrival there, as is always the case in these classes, we are encouraged to focus inward, to let go of any nagging thoughts or worries. Yep. Almost burst into laughter then, and had to refocus, because they take their silence very, very seriously in hot yoga. Okay. Breathed in through my nose. Out through my mouth. Then both through my nose. ‘Focus on your breathing.’

My inner dialogue went something like this from that point forward.

Right. Try not to focus on the fact that we are packed in like sardines, and I am very aware of the reality that the proximity of the woman to my right will make it almost impossible, unless she is very crafty, for her not to sweat on me. We will have to work together. Okay. Refocus.

Inhale. Exhale.

‘Sometimes our minds find it hard to quiet.’ Internal burst of laughter again. No. Shit. Okay. Refocus. Why the HELL did I decide to lay down beside the mirror?! One glance confirms everything I feel about my body as of late. I used to be comfortable in front of the mirror in hot yoga. I felt strong. Balanced. Beautiful. I open my eyes, roll my head to my left and see the rapidly frizzing hair, the red face, the extra few inches packed onto my usually very flat stomach, the visual reminder of cancer (shit. This shirt doesn’t cover my lymph node scar – STOP. Let that shit go, Gouthro.

Breathe in. Out.

‘As you focus on your breathing, try to think about what you want out of your practise today.’

First: To make it through to the end of the class without vomiting, passing out, falling down,  punching someone with beautiful breasts, or crying.

Inhale. Exhale. (They really do give you enough time at the beginning of class to find that focus, to chill the hell out and remember why you’re there.)

Then: A reconnect. Something. Anything. Please let me find, today, in this next hour, that my body still has strength. Flexibility. Please, for this hour, let me recognize myself. Let me feel at peace in and connected to my body.

And that was when I was able to dig deep enough to focus on that goal, to forget about everyone else in that room. To push aside thoughts about my extra inches, about my scars, about having the wrong shirt and hair that’s too curly, to forget about trauma and cancer for an hour, and work my body out like it hasn’t been worked out since April, 2013.

And, I found tonight that sometimes there are good surprises, which is something I haven’t had the courage to believe for some time now. I reached my goal. For an hour, I found my rhythm again. I made demands of my body, and it listened. It obediently flexed, planked, cobra’d, flowed and it sweated. It hurt; that has to be said. But not enough to stop me, not enough to make me vomit, pass out, fall down, punch someone with beautiful breasts, or cry.

What a beautiful release, to be fully present in my body – this flawed, damaged body, and find joy and strength in it again. What a beautiful, much-needed release.

Namaste.