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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Off Balance

After breast reconstruction, I found myself falling over easily...and often. In fact, I lost my balance so much that I feared I had developed a brain tumor. Not that I obsess...

It wasn't until I heard about other women with breast reconstruction who also experienced the loss of balance after surgery. I finally surmised that because we had our core muscles cut, we no longer have the abdominal strength to balance us.

Therefore, if you're slipping and falling frequently, fret not. Instead, sign up for a strength training class to build back your core. Since I've been working out with my personal trainer -- who, incidentally had me hauling concrete blocks and stepping up and down on a bus stop post last week -- I realize I've been stumbling less.

It's painful, but it will keep you from injury in the long run. So, go find some concrete blocks and start moving.


I was slogging through rush-hour traffic in Atlanta the other night while listening to Terry Gross with"All Things Considered" interviewing Elizabeth Edwards about her just-released book, "Resilience."

At the interview's end, Gross asked Edwards how she defined resiliency. Edwards' answer was so profound that I practically drove off the road trying to write it down. Since I haven't purchased her book yet, I will paraphrase what Edwards said:

"Resiliency is accepting the new reality of your life after loss-- and live it fully -- rather than long for the past and what it held."

If ever there was a quote for cancer survivors, this is it. I don't know about you, but sometimes I am wistful of life before cancer -- without all the surgery scars and missing pieces...when I was stronger and more flexible...when I had eyebrows (sigh)...when I could remember every detail (before chemo deleted my brain)...when I was innocent and naive, thinking I was invincible and immortal.

I don't obsess about these things, but every now and then, I get frustrated trying to be the "old me." And that person doesn't exist.

The new reality is an older, scarred, wiser woman who knows first-hand the body's limitations and the eventual result of death.

On the other hand, she also knows she has more courage in the face of fear than she ever imagined. That she doesn't take a single day of life -- or a single relationship -- for granted. That every day counts. Every interaction. Every choice. Every action. It all matters.

She also knows that she is loved far more than she ever realized. She knows that pain and suffering produce depth and insight. She understands what's truly important and what needs to be discarded or not taken so seriously.

Life after cancer is my new reality. I can never run away from or ignore what has happened to me. I can't go back and recapture my youthful self.

But, as Edwards points out, resiliency is the ability to "live fully" in your new life. That takes on a different meaning for each cancer survivor. For me, it's accepting my physical limitations, while at the same time, appreciating that I have a better grasp of what is true and valuable.