Spiritual Bad-Ass

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Recently, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by author Debbianne DeRose for her new Spiritual Bad-Ass Tv YouTube series. The series highlights a bunch of Spiritual Bad-Asses who have a lot to say in how we can all get in touch with our Spiritual Bad-Ass selves.

The interview was a chance to really put the message of this blog in a nut-shell. Being diagnosed with cancer is an opportunity. For me, it was a catalyst to discover who I really am and make a choice to live a more authentic life. In the process, I discovered self-love, self acceptance, and got in touch with my creative self – through the healing art of drag.

Please check out the video and podcast via the link below on Debbianne DeRose’s website:

http://spiritualbadass.tv/mimi-mackensie/

Sneaking In Some “Me” Time

 

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“Oh my god,” I finally breathed. “Everyone is out of the house.”

It is a rare moment. My father is out with my brother-in-law, and my sister has just gone out for what I figure would be a 20-30 walk with the hounds. The house is mine!

Being that my father is retired, and my brother-in-law and sister happen to be disabled, they almost never leave the house all at one time. It is time to have a little me time. I peer out of the front window to make sure that my sister is down the road. When I determine that the coast is safe, it is time to quickly squeeze in some good old fashion self love.

I run to my bedroom and close the door. Just in case, I lock it and shove a book bag in front of it. I walk to the bookshelf from across my bed and light an amber scented incense stick. With it aflame, I gently light the tea lights in my altar. One sits in a Buddha’s lap and the other in a rose quartz rock. They are surrounded by all sorts of other crystals I have collected over the years. Amethyst, obsidian, lapis, quartz of all kinds…designed to bring creativity, love, abundance, and protection. I light them to honor this special time. It brings a sort of holiness to the whole ritual.

I lay a towel on my bed, sit down, and reach under the bed for a special box. I take off the lid and pull out my good friend. It is a “Magic Wand.” I pause as I hear a car drive by; I am still a little weary of anyone arriving back home unexpected. I reach for a small bottle of lube and put a dime size amount on my fingers. I lay back and rub it towards the front of my vulva, right over the clit.

I look around my room. It is the tiny bedroom I spent my entire youth in. I can remember the cut out letters my mom stapled onto one wall when my kindergarten teacher told her that I didn’t know my alphabet. They had stayed on that wall until I graduated high school. I never thought I would be living in this room at the age of 38. I had left the coop and lived in Spain and Chicago, I had even bought a house in Kalamazoo, but the economic downturn circa 2008 mixed with fighting uterine cancer left me with no choice but to start over.

While on my back, I slipped the wand down my underpants and turned it on its lowest setting. As I start feeling the vibration, I work to relax. I had never successfully masturbated until I was in my thirties. My friends, wanting me to put myself out there, encouraged me to try to hook up with some guys after I had lost 60 pounds. In one weekend, I doubled the amount of people I had ever slept with. Bringing the total to a robust four. I slept with two guys in 24 hours, and I wasn’t really that satisfied. I felt like I was trying to accommodate them the entire time. I endured one guy titty fucking me, and another guy trying to forget he was in bed with a 300 lb woman. I became so frustrated that I decided I had to figure this whole masturbation thing out. I read internet articles, attended Pure Romance parties, and tried to peruse adult toy shops. I never felt comfortable talking with anyone else about my dilemma.

Eventually, I won a small bullet vibrator from a Pure Romance party. It laid dormant in my house for a while until I got so frustrated that I threw in some AA batteries and decided I had to figure this thing out. A friend once told me that she could only really orgasm from clitoral stimulation. At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about and I quickly changed the subject to something benign. Maybe she was right. I had played with fancy dildos that vibrated and had all kinds of things going on in them, but it didn’t do anything for me. Eventually, I decided to find this “clit” thing.

I tried going up and down the vulva until I figured out that something was going on when the bullet was at the very top. I felt so dirty trying to figure this out, and filled with so much self-hatred and self-judgment that I often stopped well short of orgasm. I didn’t even know what orgasm was still. Upon further exploration, I discovered that I felt I was driving up a cliff and about ready to jump off. I would get so scared that I would stop just before lift off. What if what I was doing was wrong? Was I going to hurt myself? I read some more articles that kept saying you have to relax and ride the wave.

Finally, one afternoon, I rode myself up to the cliff and against my better judgment, I jumped. My body lit up in ways I had no idea it could. I felt like I just plugged myself into an outlet and I was short-circuiting. Tingles and sparks flew through my body, tears came out of my eyes, and my crotch became warm and wet. More than wet, I felt like I had peed myself completely. I immediately stopped. What had I done? How gross?

Already embarrassed, I threw all my clothes and bedding into the washer and threw myself in the shower. I felt ashamed. It wasn’t until I conducted some further research that I realized that girls could cum too. It wasn’t “pee.” It didn’t smell like it. It was something else, something even the scientific community didn’t even understand.

I was proud that I finally figured out how to masturbate. I probably spent a few weeks doing it at every conceivable moment I could. I quickly learned that AA batteries were expensive and only good one or two times before I required more power. The “Magic Wand” was an investment. An investment in myself and a guarantee that I didn’t have to hold out til my next paycheck or raid my remote control for batteries to get me through.

As I started to warm up my body, I began to rub my hands over my breasts and play with my nipples. My skin is so smooth and my flesh is soft. I started to pinch my areolas as I worked my thighs together and apart. It felt good, but I was still a little too worried about my session being interrupted. You can’t rush it. I take a deep breath and switch the wand up to high. I start to tickle as the hum starts to match the vibration of my own body.

I begin to vocalize with the hum. As I feel the ripple of waves of exultation, I continue to grunt and sing out. My toes begin to curl with anticipation, and before I know it I am overtaken by the crash of magical, mystical, energy. I scream til my lungs empty of oxygen and ride the ride until I can’t take it anymore.

I immediately turn off the wand and pant. My body starts to calm, but it is hungry for more. I eagerly give it what it wants. I turn back on the wand and ride it. Over and over again, I ripple and scream with pleasure until I am drenched in my juices and exhausted of my desire.

I lay back and rest. I feel whole. Before I can fully enjoy the moment, I remember that I am on borrowed time. I quickly clean up my wand and put my toy box away. I throw my clothes and towel in the hamper and run to the bathroom. As I stand under the warm water, I know that I am safe. I take a long shower, gently caressing every area of myself. I try to love ever bit of me. My belly broken into three rolls, the saggy skin under my upper arms, my thick legs, and my flat ass. I lotion up and towel off. I slip on some fresh underwear, clean jeans, and a t-shirt.

I come downstairs and sit on the couch, beaming with renewed energy, smoking a cigarette, when my sister reenters the house. As she starts to recount all that occurred on her walk, I take a deep drag on my cigarette and know that I can handle it. I have taken care of myself. Today will be a good day no matter what.

Workout

I have recently started taking a Livestrong class for cancer survivors to rebuild strength after treatment at the YMCA. A group of ten of us, I am the youngest by a decade, workout twice a week with a half-a-dozen trainers. Normally, I get there and jump on an elliptical machine for twenty minutes, do some weights, and end with the group in a small classroom to do exercises to strengthen the core. Today was different.

We were gathered and sent to the small classroom to sample a class. Shareese, a beautiful black woman in her late 30s or early 40s, was going to lead a class of Bowka. I guess it is a group fitness class with South African roots where you spell out letters with your steps, less about dance moves. As Shareese describes the format, she takes off her bigger black t-shirt to reveal a tight hot pink tank top over a black sports bra, which stops right above her bum wrapped in tight black yoga pants.

On the first day of class six weeks ago, I felt myself completely intimidated by Shareese. She is short, about 5’6”, but she looks like she could take on anyone. She is super thick, plus size by any fashion industry standard, but she is incredibly toned and muscular. She has a huge chest suppressed by a couple of sports bras and tight shirts on top of that. Her butt is huge and round. Her thighs look like they could crush walnuts. She radiates strength and power.

I find it hard to take my attention off of her. I didn’t even realize how much attention I was paying her until I recounted a story to the boys about how she asked me what I was listening to while I was doing my cardio the previous week. I was afraid to tell her. Oh my god, I am at the YMCA. I am pretty convinced all those old men are preachers in between sermons. Nonetheless, against my better judgement, I tell her that I like to listen to Abraham Hicks. “It is like the law of attraction,” I stumble. “Have you ever listened to The Secret?” She quickly told me that she loves listening to that kind of stuff, and I turned red as a tomato.

She ended that workout by showing us how, in a downward dog type position, she could swing her leg up to be perpendicular with the ceiling, swing her leg back around until her knee was to her chest, and kick it back to the floor. I, and the rest of the class, were stunned at the display of athleticism.

Within the first few moves, I knew this was going to be one hell of a workout. As I saw sweat begin to bead up on her perfectly toned shoulders, I knew I was going to be in more than just physical pain. Immediately, I felt like I had to do well in order to not be perceived as an idiot by her. I am the largest person in class by around 100 pounds. I still thought I could put in a good show.

She begins teaching us combinations, and I immediately kick off the shoes and watch them bounce off the wall behind me. The pain running up my calves and inside my inner arch was excruciating. I tell myself to fight through the pain. I quickly pick up the moves and keep watching her.

What kind of underwear is she wearing? I see no panty lines? Do you think she is wearing a thong? What thick sister in the middle of a workout is going to wear a thong? How does that seam line run perfectly down her crack. Oh my god, stop staring! She is going to realize that you are staring.

When she tells us to add a noise, I abid. If we were instructed to add some flare, I added flare. I picked up the steps quickly, even if I had to take a break every few minutes to try and soften up my cramped calves that are refusing to cooperate. She acknowledges me at some point and I turn beet red and crumple up a little.

I would see her get frustrated with an old guy who was only doing this to support his wife. He clearly had no rhythm. She wouldn’t quit until she saw him do it right at least once. Her face would show her frustration, but she kept at it until she felt satisfied. Even breaking a smile. Her brown eyes were so dark and delightful. I loved her dark cafe colored skin next to her eyes. Her hair was natural and up in a frizzy little puff of a bun. I would imagine that she would have the cutest kids.

I continued giving it my all, well beyond my usual level of exertion. I would be distracted by watching her shape move, than going through all the reasons why I would never have a chance. I watched my tall frame in the big mirror. The weight lifting was making my décolletage look great. My curly mass of unruly hair was trapped underneath a brown and white patterned train conductor’s cap. I had a good chest, but my belly. God, what a miserable belly! Besides that, I am a smoker. I am fat and a relative cousin to the beauty of Fortune Feimster. I don’t even know if she is gay, is married, has kids, etc.

After an hour of this torture, she quickly hands over the group to another instructor to lead us through some core exercises. I miss her absence as I am trying to hold my 340lb frame in a plank off my knees. I can’t even contemplate some of the other moves and find myself laying flat on the floor, cursing my inability to even raise my knee to my chest for a stretch.

We are released and I start to pick up my gym bag and shoes. Shareese smiles at me and complements me on my good energy. I barely could pull it together to thank her and smile back before I start to bust out of the door. I am so embarrassed. Just as I hit the entrance, another trainer catches me to tell me how great a dancer I was. I thank them, just as shyly, and run to my car.

I can see my pink face in the rear view mirror and feel the excitement and horror of being “seen” coursing through my veins. I completely don’t know what to do with myself, tearing up because I feel so foolish. I vow to stop and get a cupcake on the way home.

Hospitalized

I woke up the next day and had trouble breathing. Not being able to catch my breath scared me. I worried about dying and worried that no one would really care whether I was alive or not. What did I really bring to the table anyway? I was scared and there wasn’t anyone who cared. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want this life. I didn’t want to be sick. I thought of how much harder life was going to be because I got sick. I found it harder to catch a breath.

I tried to go to another clinic, but they told me to go to the ER. Just the walk from the car to the clinic had taken a lot out of me. I felt like I could collapse. Maybe I needed someone to take me. I figured no one was available. No one was returning my messages. I drove myself to the ER. They immediately got me into a wheelchair, sent me through triage, and left me in the waiting room for an hour or more.

I tried to just breath. There was no point in letting anyone know I was there. What did it matter? I was finally brought into the ER and given a little room. It was good that I was alone; there was no place for anyone. Hey, they must understand I am sick. Maybe I am not making this stuff up. I knew I wasn’t, but it was hard to take any of my concerns seriously. I am not my own best judge.

I was alone. I was scared. I thought I might be dying. The gown felt comfortable. Having people around me felt comfortable. They didn’t really know me. They didn’t know that I wasn’t worth it yet. I had already texted the boys that I am in the hospital. No word. I cried. No one cared. I am just a nuisance. I got a breathing treatment; there was no real difference in my breathing. Chest x-ray, possible pneumonia.

I watched the television. Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa, she was like a breath of fresh air. School was going to hate me. What is the point of anything? Try to just calm yourself down. Distract yourself. I started to get texts; maybe the boys cared. I am just a nobody. Whether I am here or not impacts no one.

The ER doctor tells me that my pulse oxygen is way to low. She is going to admit me. I let school know. No use fighting. Lay back….surrender. I try to be as kind to my nurses as possible. It isn’t their fault I am here. Make their life as easy as possible.

___________________________________________

The hospital room was cold and sterile. I was by myself. I had a TV and a window. As hospital rooms go, it was actually pretty nice. I kept getting poked and prodded. The boys knew I was there and were coming to visit. I should probably let my Dad know, but that could wait. I just focused on my breath.

I got dinner sent to me right before the kitchen closed. I was starving, but I had to eat slowly. I gasped for air in between bites. My arm was hooked up to an IV of fluids and antibiotics. My oxygen was set at 6 liters. People kept swinging in and out: repertory for a breathing treatment, a nurse for meds, and an aide for vitals.

I calmed down when I saw Max and Alex come in. They were covered with a mask, just like masks and robes covered the medical staff. Did I have Ebola? Seeing them made me feel better, although I hadn’t wanted them to see me this way. They were a little scared. I think we were all wondering what we could really do.

I eventually called my father. He was concerned and said he would come by the next day. I wasn’t so sure if they wouldn’t send me home the next day. I told him I would keep him posted. He said he would let my sister know.

Tests came back and showed that my bronchitis was viral. It was rhinovirus, but they wanted to take precaution to make sure it was the enterovirus the news was going on about. I had breathing treatments every four hours. The first night I was hot and miserable. I felt like I was in a constant hot flash. I couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t sleep.

I tried to be as positive and upbeat for the nurses and medical staff. I figured they already had so much on their plate. I rarely hit the nurse button. I tried not to think about all the extra work I would have on my plate going back to school. I felt so guilty not being at school. I watched the television, which was nice because I didn’t have it at home, but then I realized that it brought my energy down.

It became clear quickly that they were going to keep me for some time. Each check of my lungs and pulse oxygen didn’t really improve that much. My sister came in early the next morning. She was with her husband, on their way to a doctor’s appointment. She was super upset. I told her she didn’t have to worry; I was fine. She left a cold Diet Dr. Pepper. One of the things most patients in the hospital go through is caffeine withdraw. I had a killer headache, and sipping on it helped out.

I continued to try and chill out. I was bored and tired. My father visited for a little bit. The boys would come by every night. By the third day, I was ready to jump ship but the doctor refused to let me go. I was still on 4 liters of oxygen and a walk I took earlier in the day left me out of breath. Alex was almost ready to just take me, but we just relaxed and let everything run its course.

By the last day, I learned a lot. I was so concerned without being a bother, that I slept the first night in a room that was 75 degrees. I sleep in a house that is 65 degrees, so no wonder I was burning up. I found the thermostat on my own during that second day and turned it down. When I mentioned it to a nurse, I also got a fan. I got a chair on my last day that should have been there the first day. I realized that I wasn’t advocating for myself.

I developed a reputation, according to my nurses, of being super sweet. That felt nice, but why did they I care if they liked me or not? Why wasn’t my comfort important to myself? I learned that being sick sucked, but once you are there you have to surrender to the patience it takes to heal. Feeling guilty or bad about yourself only makes everything miserable.

I did this to myself. I had burned the candle at both ends. What did I need to learn from this? The boys came in the last night and told me that I had to release the guilt of not being at school. It was killing me. I felt like I was letting everyone down. It hung on me like a brick. I had already burned through half of my sick days. How was I going to make it through the year?

Max and Alex reminded me that I didn’t owe the school or the students anything. I was more important. I was a “good girl.” Nothing I had done was wrong. Eventually, I was able to release it. I had to because it was killing me. My energy began to lift and I turned off the television and focused only on meditation and raising my vibration.

On the last day, one of the aides helped me get off the oxygen and build up my strength. She convinced the nurse of my progress and the doctor finally agreed to let me go. The boys picked me up and I spent the night at their house. I felt well. I was healing.

I spent nearly the entire week in the hospital. I had to return to the doctor on Monday to be released back to work. On Sunday, I went through a horrible downward spiral. If the doctor said I could go back the next day, I would have to drive to work from the doctor’s office and work through the night to get ready. I didn’t know if I could do it. Would I have enough strength? I was in a fowl mood.

At the appointment, the doctor told me that I would have to be off the next week. She said it could take 4-6 weeks to recover. I only had five sick days left. She said that I might have to go back part time, or push to have the students carry the weight of the class. My voice was already gone at this point. I knew that any teacher who walks into a classroom at anything less than full force is a walking nightmare. The students feed on energy. When they know a teacher’s energy is weak, they push it because they can.

I called off work and had a fellow teacher help create the sub plans. My school email already had notes related to prepping for our teaching evaluations. One section of it is based solely on attendance. Even though I was hospitalized, I would be marked down as ineffective in that area. It was hard not to be upset, but knowing that I had the rest of the week off improved my outlook.

I tried hard during the course of the week to just relax, have fun, and rest.

End of Summer Sadness

Max and Alex thought what we needed was a trip out of town. Alex took a week of vacation, and we decided to visit his family in the Upper Peninsula. We drove through the heart of Michigan, stopping at the bridge to take in Lake Huron; we swam in Lake Michigan on the Upper Peninsula side, and had a pretty good time. At some point, I got a call to interview for a new job. The boys had me take it, even though it would leave us with only a couple of days in the UP.

We decided to travel back home through Wisconsin. We were tired. At some point, Alex started asking me some things about dating. The subject was definitely my love life. I immediately shut down. I don’t know if I just got self-conscious, started judging myself for what I have done or didn’t so, or if I just got overwhelmed by self-judgment but I didn’t really speak for the next 5 hours. I wanted to, I just couldn’t.

I don’t know if I ever really recovered from that trip. I came back and bombed the interview. I would have to start back at school. The boys, my sister, and I took several days to empty out my classroom and prepare it. I connected with the head teacher to get the curriculum. I was slated to teach 7th & 8th grade English. I had been teaching Spanish. As I looked through the materials, I felt a deep pit in my stomach. I didn’t want to teach English to middle schoolers. I went to the professional development days. My 1-year anniversary from my surgery occurred without any real pomp or circumstance. On the last day before Labor Day weekend, I went to my room to grab something during lunch and was greeted by a personal email from the new high school principal stating that the Spanish department basically bailed on him and if I had any interest in teaching Spanish, I needed to see him.

I sat there and stared at the screen. I had already put in all of this work to prepare my room. As I thought long term, I knew I would be miserable if I didn’t give it a shot. I took the high school Spanish position and had the boys help me move everything to the high school that night, without an elevator key. Somehow, I figured out a way to get the classroom ready and welcomed the students that next week.

Many of the students had been mine when I had taught last. They remembered me and were excited to see me. It felt good. I felt I built a good bond with them and laid the groundwork for a good year.

Still, the reality of everything still hit me like a brick wall. I hadn’t been as physically active in awhile. My feet and legs hurt so badly at the end of the day. My commute was still two hours. The curriculum was a mess, and there are never enough hours in the day to do all the stuff I feel needs to be done. I never saw the boys anymore because I didn’t have any spare time. I felt so alone. My whole life started to revolve around the job again. Had I not learned anything in this past year?

Although I care deeply for the students, I feel like I am killing myself a little more every day that I am there. I have thought about quitting, but what would I do? No health insurance. No money. No job. What am I fit for anymore? Plus, I had already sunk $500 of my own money into school supplies.

This past weekend, I had tried hard to make sure I didn’t have to go in to work. I got my house cleaned, bought my groceries. I was ready. On Sunday night, I could feel that tickle in the back of my throat. By 10 pm, I knew I had a problem. I had no login to order a sub. Did I want to burn a sick day this soon? By 3am, I realized that I had no choice. I threw on some clothes and drove 1 hour to work. I put together all the materials for a sub and a backup plan if I needed more than one day. I emailed, left voice messages, and tapped a big note on the office door to tell them to order me a sub. I drove back home and crawled into bed. By the afternoon, I knew I needed to seek help. I went to an immediate care clinic. The doctor told me that I already had bronchitis and an ear infection. He prescribed three different medications.

I came home and ordered a sub for the next day. I texted the news to Max and Alex, but I never heard back from them. I felt so alone. If I died, how long would it take someone to find my body? Who would care? I had forgotten about my weakened immune system. I was so grateful that I didn’t have to work the previous year. Of course, the kids’ bugs could kill me. This illness is different than being cancer tired. I have moments were I can’t breath. It is scary. I feel so alone. What have I really learned? Why am I here?

I eventually sent Max a text to see if he was alive. He said him and Alex slept most of the day. We talked a little. I am feeling more distance. I think they like that I am not around as much. I feel the opposite. There is always a little pain when you feel like you are not on the same page as someone you love so much.

Needless to say, I am feeling in a pickle. I am not satisfied. I feel miserable and alone. I don’t know how to help myself. I don’t know what my next move should be. Is anything really worth it? I hate that I am here. I don’t know where to go.

 

Check-In

It has been around three months since my last chemo infusion. Today was one of my first follow-up appointments. For the next two years, I will be checked vaginally every three months. I will alternate between a radiation oncologist and my gynecological oncologist.

No woman likes to have her legs pulled into stir-ups and lay with her bare crotch (with a thin, rough cotton blanket draped over her lap) exposed to the world. Of course, there is the drama of the speculum as well. For many years, they were metal. If your doctor was kind enough, they might lay it on a heating pad to warm up before insertion. Otherwise, it was a freaky cold surprise. I have had issues with physician assistants who selected the wrong sized implement. One even told me I had a rather large vagina instead of admit her incompetence.

Fortunately, my doctors at the cancer center are quick and adept. They tend to use plastic speculums that warm up in their hands and apply enough lube to make it as painless as possible. I noticed that they always have a nurse in with them, even though they are women. As for my vagina, I am sure it was never really large given how little I have had sex. Whatever it was, it is definitely smaller now.

Today, I was looked after by a physician’s assistant in the radiation department. Tricia is a bubbly, young Asian woman. She was wearing a bright yellow dress under her white examination coat. She went through a host of possible side effects from treatment. Did I experience any of them? No. She remarked that my vagina has healed well and doesn’t show any signs of scarring from the radiation. She asked about my energy levels and was surprised at how active I have been since treatment. I was even called a “model patient.”

Leaving the cancer center with a clean bill of health is great. I sort of feel like it is the end of this cancer story and the beginning of a new one. I celebrated by having lunch at one of my favorite spots. I followed it up with a slice of homemade strawberry cake. I also decided to indulge in an early birthday gift for myself.

As you can tell, I love to write. I have tons of journals. My last one has been full for several months. So, I went to the local Barnes and Noble and picked up a leather-covered journal with a tree on the cover amidst a sunset. Sometimes just the smell of the leather of a journal can get me.

All in all, a great day.

Making One’s Self Miserable

It is easy to wake up and stub your toe getting out of bed to just proclaim that your day is going to suck. Law of Attraction states that you are just setting yourself to attract to more negative energy because your are already vibrating at that level. You can know that is what is going on and still be stuck in the wheel of suck. Once you are on that roller coaster, it is so hard to get off.

I have been feeling my energy slip. I feel like I am in a weird sort of limbo. I am done with my treatment. I don’t have to work this summer. I should be having fun, soaking it all up. Instead, I have been having a hard time getting out of bed. I just go through my news feeds and see how everyone else is living their life. I am bored. The weather is beautiful, and I don’t want to go outside. I break down in tears for no real reason. I find myself getting embarrassed with myself. I chide myself. I try to keep it to myself, but the emotion just keeps bursting out at the wrong times.

What is going on?

I had my life put on hold for nearly a year. During that time, all I focused on was treatment, staying positive, and focusing on having fun. Now that I am in recovery, I am worried about returning to the unsatisfying life I had beforehand where everyone else’s wishes and desires trumped my own. I blocked out my needs. I denied myself nourishment for both my body and mind. I felt alone, isolated. I know that if I return to that lifestyle, (ignoring my inner calling, fearing every move I make, insisting that I am not worthwhile) I will not make it.

When you have lived most of your life in that negative thought pattern, recognizing it and disrupting it is not easy. Your muscle memory makes it the easiest choice sometimes. I have been doing so much better. I can monitor my emotional guidance system and steer it in the right direction with practice. Yet, things that have deep emotional baggage or triggers can overwhelm my system quickly.

I have one thing that I know I need to do this week, and I haven’t been able to do it. I have to call my mortgage company and find out how much longer I can stay in my house. I need to know so I can arrange a move-in date for my new apartment, order a moving van, hire movers, pack, and prepare. Unfortunately, I just feel stunned and unable to dial the phone number.

I decided back in December that I needed to rethink my living arrangements. My house needs work. I have no money to fix appliances that are broken. I don’t have the physical energy or the tools to cut my yard or shovel snow. I have even lived without heat because I couldn’t afford to fix my furnance. Selling my house is a joke. It is more than $30,000 under water.

In exchange, I have been approved to move into an apartment complex where I am not responsible for the upkeep; I get free heat, television, and other utilities; and there is a washer and dryer, even a dishwasher. I would be free to move anywhere in the country at anytime I wanted to. I can see how much I would love it.

Just as I convince myself of how wonderful it will be and how necessary it is for my healing, I get a wave of crushing self-doubt. How dare you back out of your financial commitment? You will be ridicule for being an idiot. Owning a home is always a good investment. You are signing yourself up for a life of rent slavery. You’ll never be able to buy a house again. You’re throwing everything away. Imagine how much you’ll hate listening to your neighbors in the apartment complex. You won’t have a back yard. You won’t have a porch.

I have had conversations over and over again with Max and Alex about this. I know that for me moving will be a necessary part of my healing process. I am not the same person I was when I bought this house. In some ways, my reluctance to let it go probably attributed to my cancer. I have made my decision and I have to trust it. Second guessing just uses up energy that I need elsewhere. Plus, as the boys remind me often, I am all right just the way I am. No matter what, I am worth it. I have never been bad; stop acting ashamed of yourself.

The First Ride of the Season

Going through cancer treatment takes a lot out of you. If you were super fit to begin with, maybe it doesn’t as much. If you were like me, you weren’t necessarily feeling great to begin with….why else did I go to the doctor? There are some great programs through Livestrong in partnership with local YMCAs that are designed to help cancer survivors regain their strength, but I haven’t matched up with one of them yet. Before Christmas, I did a free trial at Curves, but felt like that was too much…especially before going through radiation. I tried walking around the mall or big box stores for exercise. I even went to PT for a moment because my thigh muscles were damaged from my hysterectomy. After I pulled a groin muscle, and realized that it wasn’t doing much for me, I also pulled out.

One form of exercise that kept screaming at me was bike riding. It was the exercise I did that summer after 8th grade that helped me lose 80+ pounds. I had super fond memories of riding the trail along the lakefront in Chicago, or tooling around with my chihuahuas in the bike basket.

I had bought a fairly expensive bike for myself in Chicago. I didn’t take it on a trial run, and was so awkward and nervous when talking with the salesperson about it. I ended up buying this $500 bike, but it never really fit me. It is a men’s bike and it was a little too tall for my 5’ 10” frame. I still rode it, but it was never super comfortable.

As I began thinking about getting back on the bike, I would look at my bike rotting on the back porch. The inner tubes were shot. Rust was beginning to collect on the frame. I longed for a new bike and went to every bike shop in town. I came across a cruiser with fat tires for $500. It fit my height. The fat tires felt like a cushy suspension system. I was in love. I rode the same bike at two different shops. I drooled over it.

I told the boys about my attraction, and they were reluctant. If you really wanted to ride a bike, you would just ride the one you have now. I don’t think they ever believed that I would ride my bike from Loyola to Navy Pier in Chicago on several occasions, nor did they think I ever rode it here. They never saw me do it. Besides, they couldn’t get over how a 350lb woman would look like on a bike. In their minds, being fat on a bike was just embarrassing. Besides, how could I handle sitting on that bike seat?

I understood why they questioned it. In RPM (spin) class, I couldn’t handle riding on the class bikes because the seat was too painful. I rode my bike outside of their company, primarily because they won’t ride one. I rode my bike once last summer and had been out of practice for a long time. Still, my test runs with the new bike brought back in sharp focus the reason why I love to ride a bike. 1) I love the fact that I can cover a great amount of space in a few pedal strokes. I am not a fast walker, and I can’t run. On a bike, I can cover distances I couldn’t imagine on foot at this point. 2) There is something about the wind in your face and the feeling of tooling around in nature. I can see things on the bike I can’t in my car. 3) It is exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. At the end of the session, I know that I went somewhere. I can’t say the same for a treadmill or an elliptical. I might have logged XYZ miles, but I have been in the same spot the whole time. It is so boring. 4) It is meditative. It is just me, the bike, and the road.

I had enough money dropped into my bank account from taxes to buy the new bike. I thought about it, and thought about it. There is nothing I wanted to do more than buy that bike. Unfortunately when I looked at my finances long term, I needed to hang on to that money. I was pretty bummed about it. Every time I passed someone on a bike, I just felt a nagging feeling like it should be me.

Finally, I decided to say screw it. I couldn’t afford a new bike, but I could get the old one road worthy. I took it to a local shop for a tune up and new tires. Today, I picked it up and it looked like an almost new bike. It is still too tall for me, but if I am careful I can mount it fine. (Balance is a huge issue for me right now, so maybe it is a good thing.)

I took the bike to a local trail. The sun was out. The temperature was cool. I was nervous at first. The ride I was about to take was a little over 3 miles. Did I have the strength to pull it off? I wouldn’t know until I gave it a try.

I swung my leg over the bike (a challenge in itself), held on for dear life, and just pedaled. I had a nerve-racking start. I was rolling down a hill super fast. Watch out for the little kid! I missed him. Brakes working, check. Bell working, check. I started to play with gears until I matched one to my rhythm. Half a mile into it, I could start to enjoy the scenery. There were a lot of people on the trail. Some walked with friends. Others jogged with their earbuds on. I saw owners walking their dogs. Some moms were pushing strollers. On occasion, I saw some wildlife off the trail. My butt would hurt, so I would try to stand. Half way through the first half, I wondered if I had the strength to make it to the halfway point. I just focused on getting there. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe.

Eventually, I made it to the halfway mark and collapsed on a picnic table. I took off my sweatshirt and my hat. I tried to catch my breath. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I couldn’t conceive of doing the trip back. I knew I just had to wait until I could gather some more strength. I played on my phone. I snapchatted to my friends. I watched some people walk by.

After a half hour rest, I got back on the bike and began to ride back. I paced myself. There were more people on the trail. I dodge them as gracefully as possible. I am sure this 350 lb bald woman in a hoodie and jeans on a bike was a sight to behold. I didn’t think about that though. I felt the wind by my cheeks. I watched a squirrel run by. I became fascinated by the 80 year old man on rollerblades pass me. I made it up a couple small hills. The cancer center returned a phone call I had left about some documentation for work. The nurse asked me how I was feeling and I told her that I was riding my bike on the trail. She seemed surprised. There was one bigger hill at the end. I tried to get up it and just failed. I got off my bike and walked it back to my car. I was panting and out of breath. I sat in my car for twenty minutes to regain my composure. I was exhausted.

On my way home, I felt proud of what I had accomplished. The more I do this, the stronger I will be. Of course, I am ready for a nap….but I did it. Sometimes you don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.

Taking a First Step

So, I found out about a week or so ago that my local Curves is having a free month trial. I am going to start radiation next week, and don’t know how I will feel during it yet. Still, I want to get moving and feel like I am contributing to my health and well being. So, I woke up and decided to give it a go.

I had been a member of Curves back around 2002-2003. I lost 20 pounds or so. After I turned 30, I joined a local Biggest Loser contest at a near by gym. Alex won it and I lost 80 pounds. I kept it off for awhile, but the stress of my father being diagnosed with colon cancer and my sister getting married sent me back over the edge.

I figure Curves has a good workout that is a little lower impact and a definite time window. The 30 second switch concept works for my attention span. As I worked out, I notice that my thighs are still pretty weak from surgery. My left leg is especially weak. I have the ability to do some physical therapy for it and might go for it after radiation. Overall, I survived but it is clear that I don’t have the strength I once had. Everything takes a little more effort. When I finished, I felt accomplished but tired. I got home and am trying to get some laundry done, but I am definitely taking breaks.

When asked what my goal is, of course weight loss would be nice but it is not my focus. My doctor said if it happens, it is okay but I shouldn’t be starving myself while my body is trying to recover from treatment. What I would like to do is build my strength and energy. It is also nice to be working out in a fairly empty gym before everyone and their brother comes back in January.

My First Infusion

So, Thursday finally came. I was scheduled to be at the cancer center at 7:45am. I hung out at Alex and Max’s house the night before. We had fun and did everything we could to keep my mind off things. When I left, I felt the momentum of the world pushing me to this appointment and just stopped resisting it.

Alex drove me to the cancer center. I had two bags, one with all my doctor paperwork and one with items to keep me busy. I signed up for some resources from the LIVESTRONG foundation, and one of their guidebooks gave suggestions on what to bring.

  • Sweater
  • Music player and headphones
  • Reading materials
  • Crossword puzzle or other activities
  • Lip balm
  • Water bottle
  • Body lotion
  • Peppermints
  • Calming teas
  • Notepad, journal, and pen
  • Bootie socks or slippers
  • Cookies, crackers, or other snacks
  • Stress ball
  • Something to cover the head

I got most of my supplies at the dollar store.

Upon entry, I had to get my blood drawn. I checked in with the receptionist. She said to me, “Good morning, Joann.” I was taken aback. That was my mother’s name. She has been dead for 12 years. She was probably last there 13 years ago. I corrected her and sat down. Alex pointed out that Rosanne was on the TV. It was an episode where Darlene was in the hospital after an appendix burst. Rosanne was all kinds of crazy, but you knew she was concerned and loving to her daughter. Alex was like, “I think we are in the twilight zone.”

When my mom was scheduled for her first chemo infusion, I actually went with her. I remember them hooking her up. She was so scared. I made her come with a stuffed animal. It was the last thing I did before returning to Chicago to end my FMLA leave. Maybe she was just letting me know that she was there for me too.

After the quick and painless blood draw, we saw my doctor. She is a wonderful woman. She made sure I didn’t have any questions, checked my incisions, and went over my CT scan results – which were good.

The last stop was the infusion room. Usually the cancer center is bustling with activity, but we seemed to be the first one in. We had our choice of where we wanted to sit. The patient got a nice recliner and the poor guest had to sit in a hard chair. My infusion was scheduled to last for 6 hours.

The care that these people put into your experience is exceptional. They put my arm on a pillow and warmed it up with a heating pad to get the blood vessels ready. A big IV stand hovered next to me. The nurse got me in one poke. The first medicines were anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, anti-histamine, and steroids to help prevent allergic reactions.

I sat as restfully as I could. I had swapped my shoes for comfy slippers. Alex was having some difficulty in the hard chair. He had some intestinal distress for the last few days, and he was feeling it again today. He had brought knitting needles to re-teach me how to knit, but the IV placement limited my hand moments. He went to the bathroom and spilled stuff on himself. You could tell he was getting uncomfortable and bored. Still, his spirit put me in a great mood.

Too often, these cancer centers feel like funeral homes. People aren’t really happy. They have cancer. I have walked in the building alone and have felt the weight of this dark energy before. It isolates, it terrorizes, and it can make uncomfortable situations feel worse than they need to be.

Walking in with one of my friends is the best way to counteract this. Alex and Max are always my first go to. They are my best friends, soul sisters. They know where I am at and what will trigger me into another thought pattern. I have noticed that our humor always puts the doctors and nurses in great moods as well. This can be a huge benefit.

My first chemo drug was Taxol. The whole infusion for that drug was 3 hours, but they were going to test it with 2 fifteen-minute batches. I was doing well with the first batch. I even got up and went to the bathroom. When I returned, I started to find it harder to breath. It felt like someone was starting to sit on my chest. I than began to feel pain in my hipbones. Not sharp, but achy. It made me want to get out of my chair to get pressure off of them.

I hit the nurse call button, and soon I had two next to me. They stopped the infusion, which immediately ended my symptoms. I had a reaction, but it was at the end of 15 minutes. They gave me more Benadryl and steroids, let me rest a half hour, and tried again.

I was pretty good. Alex traded out with my sister who brought me lunch.  This is a great plan. Having a back up switched things up and made my helpers feel less pent up. I tried to get a little sleep. The liquid Benadryl gave me restless legs. Apparently, I almost kicked my sister a few times. My legs didn’t hurt; I just could keep them still.

I completed the Taxol and finished off with 30 minutes of Carboplatin. This was the drug that was going to take my hair in 15 days. At some point, I saw my sister and asked her if she was cold. She had a sweatshirt on, and I was feeling warm. A nurse overheard and poked her head in. ”Which one of you are hot?” I said I was and I had two nurses around me again.

I got my blood pressure taken, pulse oxygen, temperature, and glucose measured. One nurse brought me cold wash clothes for my forehead and neck. Apparently, my blood sugar was high. They supposed that it was from the steroids. One of the side effects is overheating. They chose not to give me insulin because it wasn’t super high, but they kept watching me. No more cookies from the volunteer cart. J

At the end of the infusion, I got a little gift (a plastic cup) and the nurses joked around with me. They pulled out my IV and my sister and I took off. I was tired, but feeling halfway decent. She dropped me off at the boys’ house so someone could watch me.

I felt a little bit like a space cadet. I wasn’t super tired. I wasn’t nauseous. I didn’t taste anything metallic. Being tired has been the biggest thing, and even that hasn’t been too bad. I have to saw, I am surprised. I really thought it would be a lot worse. Of course, side effects can be accumulative. I am going to be hopeful and try to wrap my brain around it staying this easy for now. Worrying just wastes good time for nothing.

So, one out of 3 infusions are done for this session of chemo. I can do this!