Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Full of Grace

1. Having both my daughters home, together for the first time since early August, to celebrate all the abundance in our lives.

2. Sweater weather.

3. Finished Martha’s birthday shopping with 24 hours to spare.

4. Nutella by the (very large) spoonful.

5. Hugs. I have received so many hugs lately. One can never have too many of those.

and then I just found this, posted today on Dorothy Surrenders

Thank you Universe!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Medical Update

The last two weeks have been a blur of doctors’ appointments.

Routine mammogram. Call back mammogram. Ultrasound. Cyst biopsy. Ultrasound biopsy. Cancer diagnosis. Stereostatic biopsy. Breast surgeon. Choices - lumpectomy with lymph removal and constant monitoring or bilateral mastectomy. Run around get all the reports. Second opinion. Breast MRI. I think I am FINALLY done with all the tests.

I have decided on the full mastectomy. I am really tired of being in pre-cancer mode. And I’m really good about this decision. At least mentally. Physically I am in panic mode as I really don’t do medical things very well. Great attitude, poor execution. I pass out. A lot. I have a horrible, terrifying time with anaesthesia. Pain meds make me nauseous. So I am trying to get myself psyched to get through it.

Unfortunately my closest support systems are falling apart. My sister calls me every day to boost my spirits but ends up in tears and hangs up abruptly. My mom is wringing her hands and offering to come up to take care of me, which I keep politely declining because, in reality, she will just become another person Martha has to take care of. And Martha, who is always my rock, seems to have retreated into a mystery place.

When I first told her about the cancer diagnosis, she gave me a quick hug and then went back to ordering some car part on the computer. She asked me to make whatever appointments I could later in the day so she could go with me (she works in a school). But then something has come up every time and she doesn’t go. She had a call into our family physician (she is asking for anxiety drugs which she has never taken.) And I asked her when he called if she could ask if my last pathology report had come in. He called her. She forgot to ask. I have actually stopped talking to her about my concerns as she looks like she is at the end of her rope.

I’m not sure how to help her. Tonight Peachie comes home for a week. On Sunday we are going to go see Beanie in her dance recital. (Really she’s in college, shouldn’t I be done with dance recitals?) We have decided not to tell the girls until they are both home for Thanksgiving which will be on Tuesday. And where Martha says we have to present a strong front and not worry them, especially as they go into their final exams, I am more of a let’s all cuddle in bed, have a good cry, and then map out a plan. I had thought I would ask each of them to do a little thing that could help. Beanie could go buy me some zip up sweatshirts that have been recommended to me. Peachie, who is studying physical therapy could research some exercises I should be doing to make the surgery easier.

I don’t know. After going through PTSD therapy hell because I buried all emotion for far too long, I hope I’ve learned something about dealing with stuff straight on. But I live with the stoic, German, ex cop who is great in an emergency because she just does what has to be done. Not so great when it comes to emotional stuff. Never talks about emotional stuff. Never. Ever.

So that’s where I’m at. My head is in a fairly good place, my body not so much. Martha has put up a protective wall, and I don’t know how my daughters will react. But friends are already lining up to help with food, transportation, chocolate. (Still need to find someone who has the stomach to deal with those drains I will come home with)

If I have learned anything from my past, it’s that I am strong enough to face a challenge. With a little help from my friends. Well, with A LOT of help from my friends.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Full of Grace - If You Could . . .

I usually write a list of things I was particularly grateful for during the week, but I've been completing these questions, as seen on Making Space,  and it sums up just how happy I am with my life.  Not a perfect life.  Not without it's challenges.   But oh so good.  

If you could…

1) live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I'm very happy right where I am.   I can be in three major cities in less than 3 hours, high in the mountains in less than an hour, and in rural farmland, woods and streams in 5 minutes.   Any place my family is, is home for me.  And it's nice to have my mom's house when I need to go back to the beach.

2) change anything about your body, what would it be?

I would repair my foot that was smashed, and now is filling with arthritis.   It's true, when your feet hurt, it effects everything.    And now, of course, to beat this breast cancer.

3) go to your perfect job, what would it be?
I can't imagine a better job than the one I have.  I get to be creative in designing developments and protecting the environment.   I meet new people every day and get to help them with their problems.  I work with business folk, farmers, school administration, community groups and residents.   I get to work behind the political scene to establish policy and get to be outdoors and wander around woods and farms whenever I like.    There is always a different challenge to address and I look forward to going to work.   Everyday.

4) change anything about your partner, what would it be?
Hmmmm.  As much as she can drive me nuts,  I really wouldn't change much.  I would like her to be more able to talk about her feelings.  She is very difficult to read, especially when she is pissed at me.  I know she is mad, but I rarely know why.   So I just keep stepping in it.    Better communication would be a godsend.  But I'm sure her list of what she would change about me more be significantly longer.

 5) have dinner with a celebrity, who would you choose?
 Cate Blanchett.  Dinner, dessert . . .

6) be invisible for a week, what would you do?
Hang around Cate without the danger of being arrested as a stalker.

7) tell someone the absolute truth what would you say?

I love you.

8 ) have a talent that you don’t have now, what would it be?

Singing, dancing, cooking are the big three I am jealous of other people for.  If I had to choose just one, probably dancing.

9) see someone who has died just for an hour, just to talk, who would you want to see?

Daphne.  But no longer for any macabre reasons.  True, I would like to say I'm sorry, and to be able to say goodbye.  To have a final closure.  But now, after working so hard to integrate all those painful memories and feelings from the past, mostly I would really like her to be able to meet my daughters and see how blessed my life is today.  I think she would be very pleased.

10) be the opposite sex, who would you want to look like?

Mads Mikkelsen

11) take one thing back that you’ve said to someone, what would it be?

"You don't deserve to live."  Which I said to myself.   I was wrong.  I am learning to forgive myself.

12) pick the time of your death, when would you want it to be?

2 am.  In my sleep. Having a great dream.   Ideally I would like to live long enough to see my daughters happily established in their own lives.

13) pick an actress to play you in the movie of your life, who is closest to what you really look like and could play your personality well?

Maybe Liv Ullman.  We share a Scandinavian background.  And like in the movie Persona where she speaks only a handful of words, I am a very quiet person, much happier listening than speaking.

14) change your name to any other, what would it be?

I wouldn't change my first name which is a derivative of my great grandmother's name.  But I don't have a middle name and I would take my grandmother's - Kristianna

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning to Speak (part 1)

I have suffered from claustrophobia ever since my assault. It was like a switch going on - I never felt claustrophobic, and then I did. But I learned to adjust to it.  I live and work in wide, uncrowded spaces. I am healthy enough to take stairs instead of elevators. I always get theater tickets on an aisle. I always sit on the outside of a booth. Most of these things have just become second nature to me.

Work has sometimes been a dilemma. I usually show up at meetings very early to insure a seat by the door. Occasionally I would show up too late, and the only seating left would be in the back. And I would actually leave (even if it was required that I be there) - so strong was the fear of being closed in. One day my therapist asked why I didn’t just ask a person sitting near the door to move. My answer was that I couldn’t go into the reasons for my claustrophobia. And she asked why I thought I needed to. Umm, I don’t know.

So the next time I went to a meeting where there was no comfortable seating left for me, I went to up to this woman and simply said, "I have wicked claustrophobia, would you mind letting me have your seat by the door?" She was sweet as could be, and said of course, and moved. And that has worked for me every single time. Once a gentleman looked at me kind of sad and said that he was claustrophobic too. But then he got up, brought an empty chair up, and skooched around so that we could both sit near the door.

People can be incredibly kind when given the opportunity.

Today I went for my final breast biopsy. Stereotactic. I was told that this would be the hard one, where I would be lying down, with my breast in compression, for about 45 minutes. I had been in a slowly ascending state of anxiety all week. Laying face down, not being able to move, I knew would be a major trigger for me. But then a friend suggested I let them know what the problem was. Again, I knew that I would never be able to come out with the real words, but maybe could say something.

When I arrived, I had myself in a near panic mode. A technician who was getting things ready asked me how I was doing. And I said that I was very nervous about the set up and blurted out that I had some trauma issues. She came over to me, put her hand on my arm and said "I will get someone to help." She came back with a woman who pulled up a chair in front of me, took my hands in hers, and said "we will get through this together."  Okay, which was really more of a question than a statement.

I was laid out on a table, one breast hanging down through a hole, and clamped into place. (Really, there has got to be a better way.)  I was told I could not move, which again started the panic rising.  This woman got warm blankets and asked if it was okay to put them over me. She then held my hand and asked if she could put her hand on my back. (I suspect this woman had once had some issues of her own)  Through the whole procedure, which took almost an hour)  she rubbed my back and asked me questions about my family and work    If I started to fade out she would snap her fingers and say "stay with me here in the present" and kept me talking. 

I have always felt that there are angels who show up when I need them. She was definitely one.

I am slowly coming to recognize and trust the therapeutic benefits of speaking about trauma, more of which I hope to discuss in a later post. For now I am basking in the delight that there are so many people who are amazingly kind and willing to help without needing to know the details. Angels who are worthy of trust and will not let me go.

And for all you other angels who were saying prayers and sending calming energy, I thank you.   They worked!!!   This was a huge, huge hurdle for me.  All the tests are now over and I am waiting for the results to determine the next step.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Full of Grace

1. "You have great pecs"   That is what a doctor (who looked like the love child of Hillary Swank and Natasha Richardson) said to me during one of my biopsies. That’s what she said. But I heard sooooo much more . . .

2. Peachie coming home for an impromptu weekend - shopping, chatting, baking cookies, snuggling.  I do miss that little one.

3. A friend dropping by with a basket of banana muffins. Yum

4. That these flowers survived the snow and frost.  They are the last from my garden.  I love the survivors.

5. And the best thing all week - last month I had to lay off my secretary because of budgetary woes (one of the hardest things I have ever done.)   But her union has voted for reduced benefits in order to keep the 5 eliminated positions. All five people have their jobs back!!! At least for another year.  I am doing my happy dance.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Finding My Shadow

In her memoir "Before the World Intruded" Michele Rosenthal writes:

When you survive a life-threatening experience you become another person justlikethat. It happens in an instant. If it's happened to you, you know exactly what I mean. One minute you're minding your own business, aware of who you are and what it means to be you - and then, Wham!, all of a sudden that self is gone.

I spent a lot of time trying to get my old self back. Then a lot of time in mourning when I finally accepted that I could never get her back. And then more time trying to become a new person.  Yet always knowing I was not whole.   It is a very strange life, the life after your soul dies.

When I last met with Daphne’s mother, she had asked me about that day. And she said that all she knew came from the police report. A police report? I had never seen the police report and I asked her, if she still had it, to send me a copy. Which she did. Which again sent me reeling into that void between then and now.

One of the hardest parts of my recent therapy was the trying to remember and process what happened to me. I can vividly remember what happened to Daphne, that plays in my head constantly. But, as the mind will do when it is flooded with more than it can handle, it dissociates from the event. So while my body was suffering, my mind kindly checked out. Most of my therapyy work was centered on trying to get back those memories because although they are not consciously remembered, they constantly reek havoc underneath the surface.  Through the immersion therapy, revisiting the site, and particularly the hypnosis, I was able to recall some of those details.   Yet  I have always seen those memories as if I’m an outside observer watching them happen.  I have yet to be able to place myself back in that body as the attack occurred.  And perhaps that’s for the best. Yet I still have this overwhelming need to reconnect to that body, to that person I left bound and gagged and raped and broken.

Reading the police report was shattering. There is a statement by the officer summarizing the events. Sadly, the emphasis is on us being two lesbians, and the difference in our races, and that unwritten but very clear suggestion that ‘we got what we deserved.’ Unfortunately, I don’t think much has changed in that regard in the intervening years.

Then there is a statement that I made. I have a vague recollection of speaking with an officer at the scene, but oh so freakish to now see my words written there above what is my signature. I barely remember who that person was.  And then there is a statement that Daphne gave, days later in the hospital.  Reading about the attack through her eyes was quite the mind fuck, seeing it all from her point of view.. 
So much I did not remember. Details that sent me to bed for a few days, rocking in my fetal position.  Bruising flashbacks.   So much that happened to me that I struggle to remember on a conscious level but I know I feel on some level.  They lurk in my peripheral vision or just under my skin, waiting.   I am beginning to confront them and make peace with them.   It's a good thing.
For years I have felt like Peter Pan searching for his shadow.  I know that to be healthy and whole again I somehow need to integrate those memories with the feelings associated with them and to reconnect to that person.  Not to go back and be that person. I know that is impossible.  But those memories are like my shadow.  I know that in order for a shadow to exist, light and darkness must both exist. For me to be whole, I have to have my shadow back - it is all a part of me.
I am getting so close. Each puzzle piece that falls into place, each memory that comes back, no matter how disturbing, gets me closer.  I feel like I have now found my shadow.  I just need to catch it and sew it back on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Full of Grace

Last week I was once again diagnosed with breast cancer, which was not great news to hear. Yet still there is much to be grateful for:

1. 11 years of remission which made me ultra aware and grateful for every single healthy day I’ve had.

2. Early detection has hopefully caught it the early stages. The next two weeks are a blur of medical appointments and tests to determine exactly what I’m dealing with and formulating a plan.

3. Having a job that not only covers all my medical expenses, but also allows me the freedom to go to all these appointments with very little hassle.

4. Because I’ve had so many breast issues, I already have a wonderful medical team in place. I have full confidence in them and know that I’ll get the most compassionate and best medical care available.

5. Martha, who was my rock last time I went through this. There is so much comfort in knowing I do not have to do any of this alone.  

I often give rides to women for their chemo or radiation treatments and I know how difficult it is for some - lousy insurance, jobs with little flexibility, few family or friends to help with the daily transportation needs.  Cancer is never a welcome diagnosis, but I do appreciate the amount of support I have to get through it.   I can't imagine having all that additional stress.

Also, during the past few weeks I have purposefully been avoiding the internet as I have been experiencing a wave of PTSD symptoms and the internet is just riddled with triggers for me - every day another story of corrective rape, gay teen suicide, another gay person bashed, etc.   I needed to escape it for awhile. However, I have also been ignoring the advise I give most other sufferers when they are down - keep talking/writing about it. It’s very therapeutic. And so I will try.  I will also try to catch up on favorite blogs and email.  Soon. I hope. Very soon.

And please go check out this wonderful website - www.Wish11Eleven.com - a community art project where wishes will be posted much like PostSecret.  Go on, you know you have some wonderful things to wish for . . .