Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm Behind the Wheel

Baby Paula

 Today is the first day in weeks that I have not awoken with a feeling of terror coursing through my body.
I do best when I can lay something out, so that I can analyze its components.

Several days ago I attempted to put my experience of fear into words.

My fear manifests as physical sensation. I experience  a fluttering in the area from the top of my sternum to below my breasts.

I can actually see this fluttering; it looks like petals shaking in a strong wind. From underneath my breasts into my stomach I experience a wide open stirred-up sensation. It appears to be boundless and lonely.

On Sunday I started breaking out in hives. By yesterday morning I had bright red welts under my arms, on my neck,on my ears lobes and between my thighs. NERVES-plain old nerves. I could not take anything for them due to the upcoming surgery. Since my diagnosis I have tried hard to keep myself busy and calm, but obviously my innards knew how tense I was ergo the hives.

I went through the surgery just fine. I awoke five minutes after being wheeled into the recovery room, and I asked for two things: my husband and a cup of black tea. Surprisingly, I was very lucid. I knew where I was, and I wanted the report from the surgeon.

No cancer was found in the lymph nodes. The tumor is somewhere around one centimeter. The extra breast tissue that was removed that surrounded the tumor was clear of cancer.

I am going to work hard on my head to believe that the final pathology report which I will get in one week does not show anything different. I am also going to have the tissue slides sent to John Hopkins for a second reading. 

The hives are subsiding thanks to the prednisone that the surgeon prescribed. Today I rejoice in that fact that for the next six days I do not have to go into a medical facility.

Today I plan to work more on the painting I started two weeks ago. Splashing color on a piece of paper lightens my spirit. I never have a plan in my head when I start out to paint. I just let the brush go where it wants . Usually I paint to music; sometimes not.

Color and music are just about the best things I know.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hulga, Red Lentil Curry and "Fur Elise"

This is my artist doll. I named her Hulga.

I went through a good bit of pondering as to whether I would write about my breast cancer diagnosis on my blog.

My blog has been defunct for several months because I often felt that I was being self-indulgent to write so personally about my issues.

I have decided to go ahead and let it all out anyway. Maybe I am self-absorbed, but I do know that writing helps me put things into perspective. It provides a recorded history for me, so that often I am able to look back on my words and understand myself better.

I am my own best friend. I trust myself most. I have lived more years than I now have left to live. Ever since I was a young girl, it has been important for me to express my feelings. Some people have said that I am brutally honest, and sometimes I have felt as though I must defend that.
But now I realize that this is my life- my only life as Paula- and I will write because I owe it to myself.

As the surgery grows nearer, my anxiety has increased. For the past two day my body has been broken out in a hot rash that is under my arms, on my upper legs and on my right ears. I know the rash comes from being nervous. I have experienced nervous rashes since I was a kid.

I have always been hypersensitive and hypervigilant . I work at tempering these qualities by spending much quiet time alone, exercising, making art and writing. But during times of high anxiety these activities help only some.  My skin breaks out. Crying helps to release some of the anxiety.

I put a call into the doctor to see if taking a steroid pack for my rash would be dangerous before my surgery on Wednesday. I am awaiting a call back.

People have often told me how strong I am. To be honest, I am not sure what they mean when they say that. At this point in my life I am trying to drop my need to have all things lined up and in control, because  I know that there is very little I can control except how I think about things, and that, itself, is a major challenge. Right now I don't feel strong. I am just a woman doing what she must under the circumstances.

We all have these weird little qualities. One of mine is that I was born anxious- highly so. The tendency to be anxious does have a genetic basis. All of my life I have admired those people who do so well at taking things in stride. I have learned much from them. But I have more to learn.

But basically we must learn to accept ourselves with all of our flaws. I have grown weary of fighting myself. I am who I am, and I make no apologies anymore.

Today I am going to make red lentil curry a very easy and delicious recipe I found online, and squash and
northern bean soup. Cooking is a meditation.

Here is one of the loveliest pieces of music ever:


Saturday, April 21, 2012

"All Through the Night"

I write every single day of my life, but I don't post most of which I write.

I made it through the ankle break. In January I had to be taught how to walk again. I do have to say that surprised me- the having to relearn how to move oneself forward with the feet.

Those first couple of weeks were hard, painful and tiring. I had to learn to pay attention to which foot to put first. I had to learn to pay attention to not looking at my feet. I had to learn to allow my broken ankle leg to bear more and more weight.

On January 17 I was in lots of pain, and I was walking hunched over with a cane. I looked my physical therapist in the eye and told her that I did not believe I would ever walk right again.

Today that seems long ago. After much therapy and practice I am able to walk almost four miles. My left foot always feels a bit uncomfortable when it strikes the ground, and I have somewhat of a limp, but I trust that in time things will improve.

I was absolutely relishing in the delight of being ambulatory again. I was so glad to be able to stand in the shower, do our laundry, shop at the grocery, vacuum the floor and work in the yard.
My simple daily activities are pretty much all I need to be happy. I spice things up with music which I play almost constantly, and I have learned when it is time to take a break, rest this sixty year old body and curl up with my latest book.

Life was back to normal, or so it appeared.

On March 24 I received a letter in the mail which told me that my mammogram showed a "finding" that needed further exploration. I was too busy that weekend getting ready for my father's eighty-fourth birthday party the next day to allow my mind to wander.

On Monday I lined up an appointment at Lifetime Screening for the next day. I was nervous, but I told myself that I was letting my mind go to the worst like it tends to.

I lay on the table while the sonographer scanned my left breast. I watched the movement on the screen. I saw a darkened image that had  erratic edges. The fact that the technician was going over and over that area was telling.

When she had finished her inspection, I told her that I did not like the look of the  image. She left the room and arrived with two radiologists. I told them that I needed to know what they were thinking. I told them that I could tell by looking in their eyes that they suspected cancer.
They nodded in agreement.

Pools of tears  ran out of me drenching my new beige top. I was shaking, and I cried out that I did not think I could deal with this. I almost apologized for my behavior, but my inner voice said, "Paula, you have been through too much in the past ten months. For God's sake, give yourself some mercy here." The tears and shaking continued while the doctors held my hands They were kind and gentle.

I gathered myself together, and got an appointment for a biopsy for the next day. When I got behind the wheel of my van, I decided to proceed with my plans to do my grocery shopping. What in the hell good would it do to go home and allow my distress to steep? The younger me would have gone home and stewed, but the aging me  has learned me that it is my daily routines that keep me at least somewhat balanced.

Last May my sister's Stage I breast cancer returned after twelve years and was moved up to Stage 4.
In June I was a passenger in a horrific car accident which resulted in broken ribs, a cracked sternum, four cracked teeth and broken patella and tibia. I was wheelchair bound for two months.
In October I crushed my ankle while dancing resulting in a bimalleor fracture which resulted in surgery. I was in a wheelchair for three months, and walking with a boot and cane for two more.

I told all this to the doctors who held my hands. I thought that  I sounded like one of those women on a soap opera. I thought that I sounded crazy, and I told them that if this news could have waited for one year maybe I would not have been lying there shaking and sobbing so. 

But the breast cancer did not wait, and now I have it. Life throws stuff at you, and about all we can do is choose how we deal with it. My style is to allow myself to feel my feelings completely. My style is to allow myself to cry until I feel a lightening of my spirit. My style is to research the problem and take care of the business of doing what I can to solve it.

The worst days are waiting for the final surgical pathology report because it IS the blueprint  for the  disease. It will provide the specifics of the type of breast cancer I am dealing with. It will give me information that will aid me in choosing my treatment.  Of course, there is no cure at all for any type of cancer, but I hope for a pathology report that will tell me that I  have a good chance at keeping the beast at bay for many, many years. I am scared shitless.

My surgery is on April 25. By the third of May I will have the big picture. While I wait, I practice with ways to keep the anxiety at bay. Some hours I do better than others.

I scrub, clean, walk many miles, lift weights, paint pictures,  garden, read and dance. I run errands, cook and visit friends. I do sessions of focused breathing, listen to music and watch movies. All of this eventually gets me pretty worn out by late afternoon.  

I find I welcome sleep more than usual.

"Blessed, blessed, sleep"

William Shakespeare