It has felt unusual to be silent during this time of tumult and transition – yet I have felt, until now, without words.
What follows is what I had written just before the Corona Pandemic went viral, with the intent of COMING OUT of winter hibernation. Yet, here I am now in a new kind of hibernation.
If you are anything like me, most of what you are reading these days is related to Corona. (Side note: Does anyone else sing the lyrics, “My Sharona” in their heads, or out loud, but replace the Sharona with Corona, or is that just me?) So, to begin this post I want to do some time travel together and take you back to what was on this page before this strange trip began…
Sunday, March 1st, 2020
It has been a while. Too long.
What’s happened around YOLO WELL during that too long of a while is that ten wonderful women were able to pull out of the regular streams of their lives to attend the WILBUR WOMEN’S WELLNESS WEEKEND in October. It was a special sliver of time to reflect on the values that are at the foundation of what gives our lives meaning and how tapping into this can help support our overall well-being. The weekend was a cornucopia of self-care, group learning and sharing, short hikes, dips in the healing waters of Wilbur Hot Springs, yin and vinyasa yoga with Sally Mohr, a lovely little Nia practice with the outstanding Laura Geduldig, and deliciously nutritious meals prepared by our resident chef Naomi Hester. By the way, Naomi was recently accepted into OHSU Portland where she will study to become a Dr. Midwife! WOOT WOOT!)
Those moments of quiet and the slower pace of Wilbur were quickly usurped by the hubbub of the holiday season. And just as soon as we turned the page to 2020, my life took an unexpected, though appreciated, turn when a spring scheduled surgery was bumped up to January 15th.
Now six-weeks post-surgery with a fresh set of tatas (thanks to my amazing female surgeon, Dr. KK), I find I have caught my breath and feel ready to be here, baring my chest once again.
Many of you who know me or have read my book, Life in Asymmetry, have heard the lopsided story up to my most recent surgery. If not, or for the super quick recap, eleven years ago I had a prophylactic double mastectomy because I am a carrier of a mutated BRCA gene that puts me at a very high (87%) likelihood of getting cancer in my lifetime. During the same surgery I elected to have my breasts reconstructed using a method called a DIEP flap that was a 10+ hour surgery to create new breasts from my own abdominal tissue keeping my skin, areola, and nipple intact.
What some well-meaning folks had suggested would be my “perfect mommy makeover” turned into the most hellish experience I have had as a human. Six surgeries, a life-threatening internal infection, three months as a uniboob, and many weeks away from my daughters and husband were storms I had to weather. In the years since I lived my life moving forward as though the crisis was averted. Although it hadn’t been the journey I had anticipated, the relief was still palpable– I’d dodged the cancer bullet and years of wondering when the cancer that had already taken my mom and sister, would happen to me. The stress of constant surveillance tests, the false positives that lead to unnecessary biopsies, and the worst part for me, the worrying while waiting on results. All of my concerns it seemed were assuaged by saying goodbye to a bunch of fatty flesh. I might live to meet my grandchildren. My timeline elongated, and, for the first time since my sister told me she had the BRCA gene, I could take a deep breath.
As the years passed, however, my respiration moved back to shallow, as old concerns were swapped with new stressors–like what my skin felt like in different fabrics or how certain parts of my chest had heightened sensitivity while other areas remained dull more than a decade later.
The mental and emotional toll was less anticipated and more devastating. I saw myself as now being deformed. To me, my chest looked like an ugly patchwork quilt had a baby with a lump of unformed clay. The term, “uncomfortable in your own skin” took on real-life meaning. My self-esteem was so crippled in this area that nobody, short of doctors and the very occasional late-night skinny dip with my husband, saw me bare-chested. I barely even looked at myself nude. Sure, as some have pointed out, in clothes you can’t tell.
On top of all that, since I spend a good part of my volunteer service with a local breast cancer non-profit and have been the VP for its first four years, breast cancer is part of my day-to-day life. I regularly find myself with breast cancer survivors at our workshops, events, and programs, in infusion clinics or doctors’ appointments with my Pink Pals, and generally living a very public pink ribbon life. But I didn’t have breast cancer myself. Although most people are surprised to hear this when I am brave enough to share, it is felt. Yes, even in this very caring and well-meaning community, I am different. That I have had my own tragedies, surgeries, near-death experiences and deaths of loved ones related to the same disease does not feel like it has a place among those who have had and continue to have treatments. How can I complain about my ugly deformed breast when at least I had breasts. I didn’t lose my hair or my tastebuds. Now, of course, there is a chance I have construed this all in my head and that there is no hierarchy on the amount of empathy a person can give or get, but when it comes down to it, if you were me and there were two spots left on a breast cancer survivors weekend retreat, would you go? No matter the choice, the pain of feeling these feelings and not having a place or person to share it with that could totally get it, has left its own set of scars.
When the ten-year shelf life of my breast implant was coming close to due, and it was time to get some new stuffing, it seemed like a formality–something that had to happen medically. I was feeling like a couch cushion that needed some reshaping and new fluff. It didn’t feel emotional so much as exciting.
Coming out on the other side however, I feel my sexy coming back. This last surgery was healing both physically and emotionally and I am left looking forward, out toward a less asymmetric horizon.
Friday, March 27th, 2020
At the end of February that horizon was looking quite dreamy. I was looking forward to my birthday month–a time when “herstorically” I have always set some life goals for myself and made plans for my next trip around the sun.
What was next on that blog post was to share that my new better looking and feeling boobs had me wanting to whip up the rest of my body too. Extra padding had developed this last year and a half since losing all of my metabolizing hormones when I had my ovaries removed, and I was getting plumper by the day. The fact that one of my favorite parts of the day is when I get some exercise wasn’t enough. The month of March would be dedicated to finding ways to get my metabolism boosted through food choices.
But then, Corona (My Sharona). And here we are now. Did it feel good to read about something other than Corona? Yes? Well, I’m glad. But now that time is done. Sorry.
Looking back over my writerly life, I seem to be drawn to the keyboard at the more inopportune times in life. In 2001 my book title was going to be, “My mom just died, I moved across the country with no support system intact and I want to have a baby.” Today’s title would be, “The world is not like it used to be, my life is on quarantine, and I am feeling incredibly hopeful?” Strange, but true.
I’ve shared a bit, in what I thought were safe spaces, of this last sentiment of hopefulness and have gotten a mixed response ranging from nodding in agreement to a scrunched up face that seemed to feel I should be ashamed of what I’d said.
I get it. Several family members and friends work in areas that will likely become non-existent, another is a professor who was already overworked and is now overwhelmed trying to get her classes online and is married to an ER doc who is working overtime and says they haven’t even begun to see the numbers yet.
This is unprecedented…unheard of. That many will lose jobs, businesses, colleagues and family members is not lost on me. My family will be a part of all of this. But there is something about the global nature of this pandemic that feels different. The streets of LA without traffic, Broadway dark, and skies all over the world clear of the previously ever-present smog from our over industrialized, overpopulated and over-stimulated world.
The earth was screaming at us to listen. What else would have made us stop our insatiable material hunger? Slowed our frenetic pace? Halted our one-stop, drive-thru, convenience-oriented culture? What else could have staved off our craving for instant gratification? How could we have made the turns we have seen in mere weeks–our teenagers getting more sleep, colleges deciding to forgo the age-old unequitable standardized tests as measures of a student’s worthiness. What would have been big enough to force people who couldn’t stand each other to learn to share space and make peace, even if it is just enough to survive? When else would people make camping tents into offices and t-shirts into facemasks? What else could have caused our internet feeds to be filled with DIY sanitizing products and recipes for meals made only from canned foods instead of glam shots of overstuffed plates and perfect looking meals? What would have tipped the balance toward telecommuting and flipped the table of time spent between work and family toward family? Just in our family, we have taken more dog walks together this past month than ever in our dog owner lives. We play board games, bake our own bread, make our own cilantro lime rice, falafel, Buddha and poke bowls. We are learning and teaching and dancing and writing and meeting online and my oldest daughter and I just signed up for an online ASL class together. We have personal challenges like running 30 seconds more each day, challenges with friends to try new things, family challenges. Strange to call it a break given the circumstances, but there are many times when it feels like just what the life doctor ordered.
In our family, we like to make rituals around making wishes. Every time the clock hits 11:11 is one. When an eyelash falls out. When it’s our birthday o’clock (3:30 in my case). You catch my drift. Well, for the past year and a half, in addition to my regulars, like good days for my family and friends and good enough health to be able to enjoy them, I have added that I wish I could be given a big life PAUSE button. Or maybe just a slo-mo life so that I could be super present to this time before our daughter leaves for college, while we are still the solid four we call our family unit. I don’t wish for it to be easy. I don’t wish for lavish trips or bigger, better, something or others, I wish for health and time with my loved ones.
Now, this is all that there is. Today, my biggest blessings are my health and that of my husband, children, and dog and the house that we have to shelter ourselves in. I am so very blessed to have these gifts in my life.
I told my writing group I couldn’t meet today (on Zoom) as planned as I needed to put my focus on my family. It is unlike me to cancel at the last minute but in this case it didn’t seem like a choice. Susan replied to my cancellation with “…I envision you as the anchor holding the family steady. Such a blessing, such a burden.”
The truth of her sentiment waved over me. It was so true for what I was experiencing right now both in the ways it related to the story of my breasts and of carrying the BRCA gene and also to what is happening now with the Corona Pandemic.
The burdens of this pandemic are perhaps the most obvious and definitely the most painful. It is not and will not be easy. We are caring for kids, aging parents, family members with compromised immune systems, friends with weak lungs. We are trying to work and school from home without knowing when there will be a physical school we can return to. We are sharing small spaces and diminishing resources. There are huge losses and seemingly insurmountable challenges to be faced. All of these things–change, unpredictability, loss and the unknown are very hard for us to bear. We feel unsettled and don’t know what is next. We are collectively grieving. Our planet and life as we have come to know it depends on us holding this burden, collectively, as a united front, in this one very small and very big way.
This is our burden to hold.
Yet if we are open to it. Willing to get uncomfortable, navigate change, and most importantly, take notice of what is happening on a macro universe level, then it is possible to see the blessings that this time has to offer within the challenge. An extraordinary, once in a lifetime chance to change, find a new vibration, slow down and reset–celebrate the beauty within the burden.
For me, however, this is what it takes for some of the greatest things in life. I am literally sitting here with the phone by my side, ringer on, which it never is, because I am waiting to hear from my nephew that his son has arrived. There is much to be said about having a baby at this time of crisis, but the thing I have been thinking about is this – accepting our “fate”, as I will call it here, is not a death wish or a willy nilly ignorant way to look at living life. It is like parenting, we know and fully embrace that there will be tremendous pain and sacrifice in the process, but if we want to be parents, this is just one part of the greater journey. So we welcome the challenges as pathways to the breakthroughs.
In the case of Corona 2020, what if this tragedy is saving us from something far worse?
This is our beauty to behold.
Nama-stay right where you are…and let’s stay connected.
Sending love and light,