Friday, August 29, 2014

Full of Grace

1. The ability to go into the mountains for a few days of restoration.  This includes not only the physical ability to hike and climb and carry everything I need on my back, but also the financial and relationship freedom to go, and the emotional strength to conquer the always background fear of being women alone in the woods.

2. The luxury of peace and quiet, the breathtaking awesomeness of a star filled sky, and the time to contemplate the condition of the world and my relationship to it.

3. Being able to share the beauty of nature with my closest friend.  It has been a very tough year for her and she still makes time for us.  I once knew a woman who said she and her best friend have had the same conversation for the past 25 years.  And I thought “how strange, my best friend and I have never had the same conversation in the last 30 years.”  (although the phase ‘where does the time go?”  has crept in more often than I care to admit)    Better yet, we are able to spend days together out in the woods and have no need for any conversation at all.  Bliss

4. I recently read somewhere that the difference between humans and the rest of the animals is words.  Being out in the wilderness, where I have no need for words, I can become one with the rest of the animals.  And that is a very good thing for me.

5. And yet, with all these wonderful benefits of being immersed in nature's peace and beauty, I still have the absolute joy of coming home.  Home.  Where love and warmth and laughter (and hot showers) always wait for me.

And now I am going to try to quickly catch up on my blog reading before heading to the lake for the holiday weekend.   In recent years the girls have been back at school and Martha and I have had the place to ourselves.  But this weekend many of Beaner’s college friends, and boyfriends, are joining us.  I am very grateful that I got a couple of days of quiet mountain time before all that youthful energy and appetite descends on me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Date with Cate

I will begin by saying that I was a little bummed out about having lousy seats for the play "Maids", which only had a 10 day run in NYC. First dibs went to 'Friends of Lincoln Center'  which apparently I'm not.  I would be happy to be their friend, but it costs money.  And honestly, is it really a friendship if you have to pay for it?  The only aisle seats left after the "friends" bought almost everything, were the second row from the back so I knew I would pack binoculars.  

Then one week before we went, I got an email from Lincoln Center saying an unforeseen circumstance had occurred and a large multi media screen used during the performance was not visible from my seat.  Because of this they would refund 50% of the ticket price which was pretty sweet considering the tickets were $275 each.   But still, another disappointment that my seats were not great and how would Cate noticed me that far in the back?

The day finally arrived and we took the train to NYC early to spend the morning at the American Museum of Natural History.   I was antsy because I know every inch of this museum as it was ALWAYS the school field trip.  But Martha loves the dinosaurs and there was a special exhibit about pterosaurs, flying dinosaurs and so we went.  That turned out to be pretty interesting and I discovered this (sorry for the poor quality) :

Evolving from arms into wings - “skin flaps evolved on the sides of the body”

Well, that explains what is happening under my arms - I am evolving so that I will be able to fly. That’s cool.

Time to get to the theater.  When we found our seats I was delighted to discover that, like most NYC theaters, this was not very deep but had lots of balconies.  So our seats were not that bad, maybe 50 ft. from the stage. Further, I now understood that it was the balcony over us that would block the media screen but in reality we could see 95% of it.  I could see the stage and the screen plus I was being refunded $275.  The day was  brightening and my anticipation mounting.

I first opened my PlayBill to see this ad for Armani perfume.  I was beginning to have trouble sitting still.

And then the lights dimmed and there she was.  On stage in a bra and half slip.  And I with my binoculars was enjoying every inch.  I mean scene.  Not only did she prance around for the first  20 minutes in her underwear, but the other character spent a good deal of that time trying to feel her up and spraying perfume between her legs.  I kid you not.  The play was rather raunchy.   (Why didn't I go to acting school???)

For one hour and forty five minutes with no intermission, I watched this amazing actress prance and sing and tremble and dry hump another woman and grovel and spit.  She has such tremendous talent and seemingly no vanity.  Those close ups on that big screen were unforgiving -  her make up smeared, spittle hanging from her lips, crawling along a floor, her face smashed against a window, dressing and undressing on stage.  Watching her roll stockings up her mistress’ leg was almost orgasmic.  

I can’t even remember the number of curtain calls there were.   I was still stunned from the performance.  Even Martha came away from it in awe of her talents.  It was not until much later that I realized that Cate never did notice me sitting in the next to last row.  She did not ask me back to her dressing room or out for drinks later. 

Oh well, I will forever have her image engraved on my brain.  Yeah, go ahead and make that bigger. 


And hopefully there will be a next time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  That I had another good oncology report.

2.  That all my blood work was good.

3.  That my DEXA scan showed that my bone loss from the estrogen inhibitors I take has slowed considerably.   I am still losing density (2% more), but not a loss huge scary like last year (18%).  I think all those weight bearing exercises at the gym are helping.

4.  That my chest MRI showed no new tumors.

5.  That the sudden appearance of a very odd and ugly looking brown mole on my chest, that had me panicked, turned out to be just a dried up brownie crumb  : )

Yep. This is life after cancer.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

“Her boundaries are like walking through a field full of land mines.”

“Her boundaries are like walking through a field full of land mines.”

This is a statement about me from a person I once thought was a friend.  It is a statement she did not make to me, but to my best friend.  

“Her boundaries are like walking through a field full of land mines.”

It’s been well over a year since these words were written and I am still trying to wrap my head around them.

I have long known that I have issues relating to trauma and PTSD and for all these years I have just wanted, more than anything,  to be normal.  Not that I could describe what normal was, but I could always sense when my reactions to things were not the same as other people’s would be.   And when my reactions were not “normal”  I would feel a lot of shame.   Shame at what had originally happened to me and shame that I was now different.  I always felt like I had the equivalent of a scarlet letter on my chest when I became hyper vigilant in public or jumped sky high at a sound behind me, or started to cry if pressed in a crowd.   My need to feel safe became my disgrace, my need for privacy became my cowardice.

For all the years I was in therapy, Lauren worked with me on the need for boundaries.  My original thoughts were that boundaries were needed only by weak persons and that I would never be “normal”  if I required boundaries to survive life and relationships.  I thought I needed to eliminate the boundaries in order to be like everyone else.  But Lauren was finally able to make me see that just the opposite was true.

Setting boundaries is our first line of defense to protect ourselves from more emotional harm.  After working so hard on recovery, boundaries are what keep us from suffering more triggers and setbacks and from allowing PTSD to seep back into the cracks.   It is not weak to protect yourself.   In sports they say that a good defense is the best offense.   Setting healthy boundaries is an act of love - for yourself and for those who care about you.

PTSD is a chronic and life long condition.  Even now when I feel I have conquered it, I know that it is always there, lurking.  I know that if I don’t protect myself, it can come back.  And so I have set boundaries.  In my real life, these mostly revolve around needing to feel safe in my environment.   I ask people not to approach me unannounced.  I need to choose where to sit at a restaurant or theater, etc.  For my on-line life I have boundaries to protect my identity as I still don’t  know whether my attackers knew who I was or it was just random.   This fear had faded over time but I still get random emails or comments that scare me.   So even though most of you know me by name because we have corresponded outside this blog, I ask that you keep my name and my story private.   

I have been fortunate that all these years I have never had anyone not respect those boundaries.   Even the majority who have no idea where these issues come from, respect them.   Until this one women threw me off kilter.  

“Her boundaries are like walking through a field full of landmines.”

Ours was just a corresponding relationship and my boundaries seemed pretty simple to me -

- Don’t contact me through any other means than this one email address without my permission

- Don’t share what I share with you without my permission.

Yet she continually violated these boundaries.   She would share my most private stories and questions with her friends and husband.  Time and time again I would ask her not to but it continued.  She would write about me on her blog, and answer my concerns with “well, I didn’t use your name.”  Over and over I would explain to her that I needed to feel safe in the space we had created to share our stories but when she brought others into that space without me knowing, it became a very unsafe place for me.   She occasionally would email me at my work address (although I had never given it to her) or text my phone.  

And finally the relationship fell apart.  Me, too weary of all the violations and the constant string of insincere apologies only to have it happen again and again.  Her, apparently too tired of having to navigate my boundaries.

“Her boundaries are like walking through a field full of landmines.”

That one statement put me back in therapy.  Once again I was doubting my boundaries and feeling ashamed that I apparently needed this crutch that she labelled “land mines.”

Well, much like Lauren, my new therapist reassured me that boundaries are healthy and necessary.  They are not landmines. They are requests for respect.  It has taken me a while, but I am now much clearer about the kind of person who cannot or will not respect someone else's boundaries.  I do not want or need people like that in my life.

If you have experienced a trauma and require boundaries to make yourself feel safe, do not let someone shame you into feeling that you are damaged for setting limits.  This is akin to victim blaming, very common in rape culture.  Something bad happened to you.  It was not your fault.  Don’t let anyone devalue what you need now or marginalize your coping methods.  Do not apologize for it.

If so called friends don’t respect you, they are not really friends.  If you are a survivor, you are the best expert for what you need to feel safe.  If people care about you they will care about and respect your needs. Let the others go.  Living with PTSD is not easy but you have many strategies to use.  They are tools, not crutches.  Do not be ashamed to use them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Full of Grace

1. That my daughters asked if we have another “just us” trip to New York City.  I am thrilled that they want to spend time with me and that they love NYC as much as I do.

2. That I surprised them instead with a weekend in Montreal.  Old Montreal is such a beautiful city to walk and we spent our time wandering with no itinery, eating (Nutella croissants, Nutella crepes, Nutella ice cream) sipping wine at outdoor cafes, shopping, shaking out the rust from our French, and spending delightful evenings in the public spaces listening to street performers.   School starts in a couple of weeks and I feel so blessed to be able to share this special time with them.

 3. The joy of strolling out to my garden every night to harvest greens and tomatoes and beans for our dinner salads.   I am so enjoying that 'hands on' connection to food - planting, gathering, preparing, eating.   That whole sense of grace - “thank you for this food” - has become very, very important to me.

4. That animals like this exist in the world. Honestly, this just makes me ridiculously happy.

5. And tomorrow I have a date with Cate Blanchette.  Okay, she invited a couple hundred more people to see her also, but in my eyes, it will be just her and me. . .   and Martha holding my drool bucket.  

And this morning I am in tears about the death of Robin Williams. At a time in my life when I was in shock and walking around in darkness, a friend took me to see him live in concert. I do believe it was the first time after the attack that I managed a laugh. I am so grateful to Mr. Williams whose humor helped pry open a new path of hope and life for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


By request, here is an update about my new fake boobs.  I just had my 3 month checkup with the plastic surgeon who created my foobs.   They have not yet settled all the way and are dropping unevenly.   Of course.  But at least they are out of my armpits, which was really a weird feeling.  The doctor said it will take another few months for the settling  to be complete and a year for the scars to soften and fade, maybe longer because I am very fair.  Once they have settled, revisions may be necessary, but I doubt I would have any more surgery.  I can live with imperfection. She once again offered me nipple reconstruction, which I have declined, so I can’t offer any experience about that.   

Am I happy with the decision to reconstruct?   

Yes.  I can now get dressed without the usual angst I had with a flat, bumpy chest.   And clothes just fit better.  I never have to, or need to wear a bra which is particularly great during these hot, humid spells and while exercising.   I no longer have people staring at my chest with either curiosity or pity. And psychologically it makes a huge difference although I couldn’t really explain why.

Still,  it required two major surgeries plus all the weekly appointments to have the tissue expanders pumped up which was not fun.  It was not a decision I entered into lightly.

Am I happy with the results?

Yes and no.  

As you can see from the pictures, the implants are still uneven and I have some lumps and bumps. These issues will hopefully get better over time.  

Because the implants go under the pec muscles (unlike breast tissue which is over the muscle) it is a very weird feeling when using those chest muscles.  Not a bad feeling - just different.   

While I can wear almost anything now, sheer white shirts are still out because of the scars which show through.  This is also true for tight clingy shirts because the scars are not flat.  

Having the scars adhere to the tissue below is still a concern.  I am massaging the scars constantly hoping that this will not happen.  They adhered after my mastectomy and it always felt like I had duct tape around my chest - every movement caused everything else to pull.  Hopefully I can avoid that this time.  

And  there is still no sensual feeling to the foobs.  I had hoped that the reconstruction might bring back some of that feeling, but no.   It is by far the saddest part of the mastectomy for me.  

In many ways I wish I had started the reconstruction process at the time of my mastectomy instead of waiting over 2 years.  It would have eliminated one major surgery and the twice healing time.  But at the time I really didn't think it would matter.  

Most women I know who have gone through reconstruction are very happy with their decision.  But I know of  a couple women who have had problems with the implants, or infections, or asymmetry and have endured multiple revision surgeries and regret the decision.   It is not a perfect process.   I also know a few women who are very happy using only their prosthetics.  I never thought the flat chest would bother me, but in the end, it did - mostly because it wasn't really flat.   It was worth it to me. So, I come back around to it being a very personal decision.   I am happy with mine.  I hope this helps.

After mastectomy - not really "flat"

Tissue expanders - very uneven and VERY uncomfortable and
fortunately temporary.

Now - three months after implant surgery

Much happier in clothes

And I have perky boobs, even braless.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Full of Grace

1. Getting to see the Bolshoi Ballet.  I go to the ballet once a year at an outdoor venue that has been the summer home to the New York and Philadelphia ballet companies.  We are blessed to get such tremendous talent so close to home.  The Bolshoi, however, was probably a once in a lifetime experience and wow, was it worth it!   Grand.  Spectacular.  I have never heard such an ovation at the end of a ballet as I did here. (even Martha was on her feet)   I still have goosebumps.   

2. Of course, given the recent political happenings, there were many protesters on site.  I am grateful that I live in the country where these protesters had the right to peaceably assemble and be heard.  I am also extremely grateful that the Bolshoi came anyway because I think we need many more events where we can share our art and culture and appreciate our similarities rather than always focusing on our differences.  

3. That my state’s State Court of Appeals just affirmed a lower-court ruling and found that the towns have the authority to ban fracking through land use regulations.  I wrote a law banning fracking in my town years ago, as soon as this became an issue.  But the State authorities (under pressure from big lobby groups) have been threatening to override any local ordinances.  This ruling will keep my town protected.  And may I say that it just pisses me off how politicians are willing to gamble away their water supplies for quick money.

4. Having the job at family gathering of holding the babies.  Not being much of a party socializer, I was quite content to sit with the newest addition to Martha’s family, snuggled up in my shoulder and neck for a couple of hours.  Sweet bliss.

5. That the wicked hot flashes and night sweats and very uncharacteristic bitchiness I have been experiencing have subsided.   I am grateful . . . but probably not half as much as my family is.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

The New Gym

My daughters have convinced me to join a new gym.  I have been very happy at the Y.  A small gym with lots of people just like me - slogging through our little routines on machines I understood.  But a new, state of the art gym opened in town. It is cheaper than the Y and my daughters are very into fitness and begged and so we have made the move.

I am now faced with more aerobic machines than I have ever seen, with so many high tech gadgets I have yet to figure them out.  There is a section for weight machines, a section for  pulley machines, a section for machines that use your body weight and move multiple joints at the same time.  There is a room just for kick boxing, one for something called gravity where you hang on straps, a pool, rock climbing wall, a spinning room, group exercise room and a high performance training room.  

I am overwhelmed.  

My daughters, who pop out of bed every morning at 6:00 am to go, are thrilled.  Beaner has signed up for personal training, and when I see her she is drenched in sweat and her eyes are crossed with effort.  At one point I thought she was looking at me saying “please save me.”  But she comes out energized and excited.  

I was offered a free personal training but I declined.  I realized that although I probably need someone to “take me to the next level”  I really don’t want to have to do the necessary work.  And someone prodding me like a drill sergeant is just going to piss me off.   I am content going through my too little aerobics, a few upper body weight machines, a couple of leg machines and if I’m really motivated, some ab exercises.  Of course, now I don't understand how to use most of the weight machines.  The free weight section is filled with way too serious bodybuilders and I am wondering around aimlessly trying to figure out what to do.

I was disappointed that they have very few yoga classes and are at times I can not go.  But my daughters reminded me that I didn’t go to classes at our old gym either, even when they were convenient.  Right.  

But . . .  they have a hydromassage bed!  It’s a bed where you lie there while water pressure vibrates under you. You can adjust the area of your body to be massaged and the speed and intensity of the water pressure.  OMG it is deliciously decadent.

Oh yes, I think I am going to like this gym.