Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tools in my box

We're back from vacation. It was really nice, but DI had to give me a talking-to at the outset because I was having a really hard time putting cancer away . . . it's a freaky time for me. I know what's ahead, I'm dreading it and feeling scared by it, and yet I look like a completely normal person with all the trappings of, well, a wonderful life. And while I realize, yes, despite having a double-mastectomy scheduled in 8 weeks it is a wonderful life, I'm not feeling so wonderful sometimes.

This is how it goes: You're hanging out with family on the beach/you're at a party with people you like/you're shopping with a friend/you're at dinner with your partner and all looks great, you're having - FUN! But in a quiet moment, your mind goes to the Dark Place. It's the place the mind likes to hang out after hours, too, when you're alone or things are quiet. It's the place of dread, fear, stomach-turning thoughts about . . . whatever.

These are the myriad random things I've worried about lately:
  1. My surgery will go poorly and I'll have to deal with [insert some major complication].
  2. I'm going to have to surrender the care of my family and home to others for a while - and the time is undetermined. I can't stand ambiguity, especially when it comes to household/childcare logistics.
  3. I'm going to have to give up working out for about 8 weeks. I've been working out pretty much every day since March, 2011 and I see great results. This is going to set me back.
  4. I won't be able to prepare food for quite a while - cooking from scratch is very physical and I have some very heavy pots & pans . . . I'm going to miss my freedom and creative time in the kitchen, not to mention all my greens and salads.
  5. I might not even be able to open the refrigerator myself - it's got a crazy-strong seal on it and I've been told that even things like child-proof caps on bottles are off-limits.
  6. My daughter's going to witness my surgical recovery and I don't want her to be scared, or worse, scarred.
  7. I'm freaked out about the drains that'll be in me for at least a couple of weeks.
  8. I can't drive for a while after surgery - again, the dependence thing.
  9. I need to learn to wash my hair with my arms trapped at my sides because I can't raise my arms up for weeks. Forget about blow-drying.
  10. I have to find decent-looking button-down shirts to wear for a good long while - no arms up over the head.
  11. I hate sleeping on my back, and that's gonna be my only option for a while.
It's random, no? It's anxiety, all free-floating and ruthless. It's in the background, all the time, and it's unhealthy. Especially for 8 weeks. But luckily (what?) I've done this before, and I've got tools.

My tools are tools you can use any time you're faced with worry, and one of 'em I've used for years and years and years: it's exercise. Those who know me know that I'm religious about my workouts. Whether they're low-key (I'm a Pilates convert after an almost 2-year bout of arthritis that left me unable to do anything on my feet) or high-energy (I'm a former running addict who loves to blow it out with cardio of all kinds, just low-impact now in my middle age), they clear my mind and make my body feel powerful. And at a time like now when my body's in trouble, a powerful feeling is very, very good. I've amped things up now, pre-mastectomies. I'm in training - want to join the Mastectomy Team in Training (yes, M-TIT)? You can find me on Social Workout logging my daily devotional.

The other tool I've rediscovered is meditation. Yes, you read that right, this former litigator meditates. It's about 180 degrees from anything I'd have anticipated for myself, but at the outset of Cancer Round I, I learned to meditate and it helped me immensely. To my time-tested Relaxation Response (20 minutes of focus on breath and clearing my mind), I've added some visualization . . . to counteract all the negative thinking I've been doing about my surgery. Like athletes, housewives about to have their breasts removed can take themselves through the whole sequence of events w/a positive, winning spin - and there are studies that show that this does improve surgical outcomes. Whether it does for me, or not, it's improving my day-to-day life as I sit, stuck in this holding pattern, waiting for The Big Day.




  1. I wish I could come cook for you.

  2. Sarah,
    I am so proud to know you- you are amazing, i know you may not feel like it but you are. Please don't worry about what your Daughter may witness- it may scare her but you are a fighter and this is increadible for her to see and experience. Bad things do happen in life and it's how you deal with them that makes you who you are. Lead by example- by allowing her to see your struggles and survival she will be better equipt to deal with all the things life throws at you. Your strength is so increadibly inspiring!

  3. Melissa said it so beautifully, Sarah. Lilah will see you face this with grace and courage like you face everything else. And it's OK for her to see you cry. Mamas cry, too. You are so good at communicating with her. She is lucky to have such an insightful, perceptive mom. I will cook for you, bring you salads, chaeuffeur Lilah, sit next to you-in silence or conversation, introduce you to my world of trashy tv, perhaps I can point out the positives of being a slug like me (?) by giving up exercise for a short while, I can gerry-rig (spelling?) your fridge with a rope so you can open it, I can face my fear of the whole foods parking lot...only for you, sister. ok, now I am crying, so I will go. What I'm trying to say is that I will do ANYTHING you need. And this is all temporary. then you will go back to your badass self who doesn't need help and never stops exercising and becomes the first Navy Seal at age 42. HUGS! aim

  4. who is pulling together a calendar of care? i want to be on it!

  5. This is my favorite post yet, I think it's my favorite post of yours of all time, in fact, on any blog. You are so honest, so willing and able to let us see that even Super-Strong Sarah feels these dark moments of extreme vulnerability -- and what she does to get through them.

    Not everyone has to go through breast cancer (fortunately, not even just once), let alone a double masectomy on cancer-round-two...but I don't think anyone escapes from that Dark Place at some moment in his/her life (albeit more or less frequently and with varied levels of intensity). So we all need tools like those in your toolbox!

    A couple more thoughts:

    -- Meditation, another great tool! I think anyone, not only litigators, who has worked/plans to work at a law firm for more than a year should be trained in meditation. Wouldn't it be great? It's probably even an economically sound investment for the firm over the long term. Things that make you go "hmmmm"....

    -- HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA. M-TIT. I love that. I would say we should make funny t-shirts, but I think Dave would might consider killing me. Humor is a really important tool in *my* box, and you are just so da*n funny, even while in this freaky holding pattern.

    I love you!

  6. I'm with Melissa on this: your daughter will see that people get through bad things with tools, and you can help her develop her own for right now and learn to adapt them to every point in her life. Also, I think it's good for our kids to see that we can be vulnerable without losing the strength and the capacity to care for them and protect them. It makes us more real, and not just to our kids!

  7. I agree with Kate, this is a beautiful post. It made me laugh and it made me tear up. I totally get you, Sarah. And I understand the list - all the ifs/whens and what ifs are overwhelming. I think writing them down is half the battle... and I will say that #5 is the one that made me laugh out loud (we can loan you our beer fridge!) and #10 I view as a shopping opportunity!!! I can picture some really cute billowy, soft blouses for you. Let's get cracking on that one (sorry, Dave....) Okay, so #6 (and a couple of others) made me tear up. But my guess is that Lilah is going to be fine - you are so strong and honest, and she will draw her strength from you - you have it in spades, honey. She may be a little scared, but deep in my heart I do not believe she will be scarred. As for the cooking and errands - you will have a waiting list of people who want to help. I swear we will be taking numbers! Can you just sign me and my crew up for every Friday? I can shop, run errands and then bring my team by to cook dinner and whatever else you need on our "playdate" day. I can't join the M-TIT team at present, but sign me up for the meditation team in training! Love you, Sarah.

  8. Sarah - If you need ANYTHING, message me. I can totally relate to having "cancer on the brain." You will kick this mastectomy in the butt!

    BTW I am interested in this mastectomy team in training. I need to get myself back onto my old regimen. Radiation has beaten me to a pulp & I have 0 energy.

  9. These anxieties are all so normal. I'd be so much more worried if you weren't feeling this way.

    I remember taking a day trip with Dan and Sam to Rockport. Sam was in the stroller and we were sitting and watching the boats go by. I cried at one point, worrying that I'd never have another one of those beautiful moments with my family again. And yet in a set of pictures Dan took of me from that day it's so odd how normal I looked (despite the very short haircut I had just gotten to prepare myself for chemo). Normal, even given what was going through my mind. In some ways, these are some of my most cherished pictures.

    I agree with Lindsay that writing the "bad thoughts " down can be therapeutic.

    Have you tried the technique of allowing yourself some amount of time each day for worrying? A friend of mine said it worked wonders for her when she was going through a tough time. She would set aside about 1/2 hour each day and for the rest of the time the stuff would be put out of her mind. It was hard at first but then she found it really helpful.

    I so totally relate to the feeling of losing independence. It sucks. But it's a relatively short investment of time to let others take good care of you. And then it will be right back to normal again.

  10. S,

    I got a cool vest from DFCI that is cotton, velcros in front and has discrete pockets for drains. I think mine is probably too big for you or I'd give it to you (maybe you want it anyway?) but I'm pretty sure it was covered by insurance. I hear everything you are saying and I had the same fears (the DRAINS were the worst!). The good news is that for a couple weeks you are on great drugs so it helps the time to pass quicker. Also, I have an extra handheld shower attachment and shower chair if you want to borrow them. It might be helpful. As for the hair thing...how about getting a couple cute hats? Also, I have a GREAT cleaning lady who is very reasonable. Let me know if you'd be interested.

  11. Dear Sarah,

    Your daughter will be able to open the fridge, and rehat in tyhe microwave and give you a towel and dry your hair! It is creepy, such a role reversal, but she will be more independent when she goes off to college! Go for pots with two handles -- they would be safer for a child to lift!

    Is Dr. Y somebody who works with Dr. P? My Dr. Y is a doctor-in-training, so I know he will be there in five years when I come off AI therapy. It is not fun to be hot all the time, and I searched fruitlessly for shirts and brass after treatment. Linsay -- find me that breezy blouse, cotton please!

    C. Blum