A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stretching and Retching

I recently redeemed my friend's gift of two one-on-one sessions with a pilades instructor. It was her treat because of all my surgeries this year. How kind, I thought.

But now, after my first session, I am questioning this friendship...perhaps I've ticked her off in the past and this is her way of getting me back. Or, maybe we were never friends to begin with.

It felt somewhat like the torture rack--you know, the one that yanked Braveheart William Wallace from limb to limb...until he died. I was pulled in every direction except for the one that offered comfort.

Even the "pilades machine" resembles a torture rack. See dictionary: The rack is a torture device that consists of an oblong rectangular frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one, or both, ends, having at one end a fixed bar to which the legs were fastened, and at the other a movable bar to which the hands were tied. The victim's feet are fastened to one roller, and the wrists are chained to the other.

Yep. That was what I was on, all right.

It's amazing I survived. Not only did I survive, I signed up for her next session. Call me stupid. You can also call me a hunched over old woman. Because that's what I am after I've been cut from limb to limb.

With a double mastectomy and reconstruction, your abdominal muscles have been severed and sewn back together. As you heal, you will tend to give into poor posture, hunching over because you're muscles are weak and tight. Stretching is critical in restoring your body to a normal stance.

I thought I was healing just fine. That I was stretching and building strength. At least that was my illusion until I took a pilades class. It exposed my pathetic state. I cannot do a sit-up. Or, much else, it seems.

Jessica, my instructor, rubbed her hands together in glee. Torture is her specialty. She tasked me to do the impossible. Everything appeared so easy when she demonstrated it. Alas, it was not so simple. I realized how desperately tight and weak I am, and how desperately I need this.

It appears that pilades is a perfect therapy after breast cancer surgery. Or, maybe it's another type of therapy I need instead...the one involving my head.

The Waiting Game

I thought after high school, I wouldn't ever have to sit by the phone waiting for a guy to call me. (Obviously, I was in high school ages ago.) But, here I sit -- once again -- anxiously waiting and wondering when the call will come in and what news it will bring.

This is the life of cancer survivors. We're always waiting for the results of a test. For answers to our concerns. For help when we need it. And we typically have to endure hours and hours -- sometimes days -- agonizing over a call.

I cannot begin to count the number of messages I've received from doctors' offices at 5 o'clock on a Friday, saying they have the results to my test...but, I'll have to wait until Monday since the office is now closed. Click. There is a special place in hell for these doctors.

If only they understood the torture they put us through in keeping us in limbo. Would it kill them to give me their cell phone? Just this once?

I am currently dealing with this situation as I wait for the orthopedic doctor to call me. Yes, orthopedist, not oncologist. Trust me, I do know the difference.

I had an MRI the other day, which revealed a torn meniscus in the back of my knee. This explains why I remained standing while the rest of the yoga class of 20-somethings squatted to the floor.

A simple surgery will fix it -- as if I didn't have enough surgery this year, why not go for more? But, the MRI revealed something else. Something that concerned the physician. There was a strange mass in my bone.

He assured me this wasn't unusual. I told him that I was a cancer survivor. He paused. Well, it could be a result of the chemo I had had years ago. Still, to be on the safe side, he asked me to call him a few days later -- which was today -- so he would have the full report.

So, I called. He wasn't available. Surprise! I left my office number and was assured he'd call me. I stayed glued to my desk all day. Until I had to run down the hall...just for a moment. When I returned 3 seconds later, there was a message light blinking on my phone. He called.

The message said: "I have the results, but I don't want to leave a personal message on your office phone, so I'll call you tomorrow." I immediately called his office back, but alas, he had "just walked out the door a few seconds before I called." He was unavailable until tomorrow.

So, now I wait. Again. I wait with my future up in the air. Do I have cancer in my bone? Or is it something else, something benign?

Let me describe for you, the typical mental exercise I go through when I find myself in this situation:

Cancer is back. It's spread to my bone. I'm going to die. I'm going to lose my leg. Please, dear God, don't let me die. And let me keep my leg. Deep breath.

You don't know it's cancer until you get the results, so calm down. I update my will, mentally. I reflect on how I'm living my life, spending my time. Am I living it wisely? Deep breath.

It's probably not cancer. He said it could be fat deposits, or damage from chemo. He's seen this before. Am I up-to-date with my tithe? Is there anyone I need to forgive? Is there unfinished business I need to attend to?

This mental exercise goes on sporadically as I go on with living life...not allowing my thoughts and fears to consume me.

Then, finally, mental exhaustion takes over. You have to come to terms with this latest potential crisis.

So, now after feeling like I got kicked in the stomach because of a suspicious marking on my x-ray, I take a deep breath and realize that also, once again, I will face whatever news I receive with as much courage as I can muster. Knowing that we don't live forever. Knowing that I've lived longer than so many people less fortunate. Realizing that I might be okay after all.

But I won't know that for sure. Until I get the call.