Finding Clarity…or lack thereof

My therapist said to me that you don’t go through something like Breast Cancer without finding some clarity in the process.  I almost laughed out loud on my way home from the appointment, as I thought to myself, “not only have I not found clarity but I am all over the map.”  And that is really where I’ve been hanging out…one minute I think we need to get a puppy, the next it’s “let’s get an addition on the house”, next I’m researching family trips to Zimbabwe, and then I’m looking into aerial dance classes.  See, pretty all over the map, right?

But then as I’ve been sitting in this place that often feels scattered and confused, I realized this is very much what Brene Brown refers to in her book “Rising Strong” as “Act 2”.  She refers to Act 2 as being the part of the story where we look “for every comfortable way to solve the problem” and then realize what it will take to really solve the problem–including our “lowest of the low.”  She says that we cannot skip Act 2 and calls this process the reckoning, describing how we need to engage with our feelings and get “curious about the story behind the feelings.”

Well I’ve been getting really curious about my Act 2.  And although on the surface it does seem to be scattered, there is also a clear theme.  The theme is about my desires and my yearning to do it now.  I know that may sound cliche but that’s what I got. What’s the point of waiting?  We just really don’t know what the hell is going to happen tomorrow.  And for God sake, if I can get Breast Cancer, than anything can happen.  So why not make that anything, going to Zimbabwe?

In Nia there is a principle called “RAW” which stands for “Relaxed, Alert, and Waiting”.  It is a meditative-like state in which we are relaxed in our body, alert in our mind, and waiting in our spirit.  From this place, we are open and we can receive.  Much of moving through cancer for me has been about “allowing” and letting things emerge.  It is very much the practice of RAW. Every time I dance I connect to a new sensation or feeling and then in the next class it changes.  In fact, for me, the decision not to teach Nia this fall was very much about me being in both practices of RAW and in Act 2 – taking the time to be in my reckoning.

Even in my blogging about my cancer journey, I realize I often write after I have sorted things out in my head.  And then the writing helps me refine where I am at or what I am internalizing.  So here it is – I haven’t figured it out.  I am in it.  I can feel it in my bones that I am way closer to finding my clarity than when my therapist first said this statement to me this summer.  But I am also learning a lot about trusting myself and the process – that as I engage in patience and discomfort, I know what will emerge is going to be better than if I had just jumped right back into everything just the way it was.  Even if eventually, I do step back into things just the way they were, they will all look and feel different, because I have been through my Act 2.

For the record, I have made two decisions which feel quite clear at the moment:

1.  I am growing my hair long.

2.  I have my breast size all picked out for my reconstruction surgery on Tuesday! 🙂


The Conjunction of Dialectics

I saw a dance performance last Friday night called “Momix”.  The production was called “Alchemia” and it was all about the polarities of things that are normally in opposition.  Calling themselves “Dance illusionists”, these performers explored the space and tension in between elements like water and fire or male and female, etc. which they refer to as “conjunction”.  As I watched totally mesmerized by the creative expression of these concepts, I literally felt expansive in my body and mind.


In therapy, we refer to this as a dialectic – and I often offer this frame for clients – things don’t have to be mutually exclusive and when we hold space for them to exist at the same time, we often have more room from which to move, make decisions, feel, be, etc.  So I remember the day when I realized that holding the dialectic of breast cancer was so helpful for me. It allowed me to feel spacious and less constricted.  This is my dialectic of breast cancer:

My breast cancer is a really big deal and at the very same time, it is not a big deal at all.

Holding this statement reminds me that it is ok to have days where I think and feel “I am so done with this shit and ready to move on” and days where I think and feel, “I am so very grateful that this is treatable and that I didn’t need further treatment”. Both are true statements and when I hold them together, I create space for all of it to exist at the same time.  It is so freeing when we give ourselves permission to be where we are.

Walking as a Survivor

What a powerful morning to share with my family – walking with so many Breast Cancer Survivors for the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure.  The highlight for me for sure was running into my Oncologist Dr. Nathalie Johnson.  It just felt so special to see her there – knowing she is both a Survivor and most amazing Healer.  It just brought me right back to it all…all the many stages and moments of this journey.

It was the small moments – the woman in the coffee shop who stopped me and said, “Hey are you a survivor?  Congratulations to you – that’s so fantastic”!  Or the many groups of amazing volunteers who cheered, sang, performed on the sidelines.  One was a group of adorable girls who were cheerleading.  One of them placed a pink envelope in my hand.  It was a hand-written note of support…from a total stranger.  I was just so touched – I welled up with tears.  But of course that doesn’t take much for me!  Or the woman who gently touched my hand on the day I was picking up my Race packet who said, “I think you should be at the Survivor Tribute”.  Like she just knew – she knew the rawness, the freshness of this for me, and the significance of now identifying as a Survivor.

a heartfelt letter from a stranger (teenaged girl)
a heartfelt letter from a stranger (teenaged girl)

Another meaningful moment was running into a mom I know from Avery’s soccer team who was walking for a friend of her mom’s.  She was absolutely floored that I was a survivor.  I shared part of my story with her as we walked and she just couldn’t believe it.

There is something so powerful in sharing our stories – whatever they are.

Even as I shared it, I thought “wow, that all really did happen.”  Somehow every time I share my story, I learn something new about it or it becomes more integrated in my body…more a part of me.  I think that is partly why this blog has been so helpful too!  And her response, “wow you just never know what people have been through” reminded me of something Brene Brown talks about in her new book “Rising Strong” that I am reading and absolutely loving!  She talks about being generous with our assumptions and responses to people.  I love this concept and have always strived to live by the belief that people are doing their best with the tools they have.  Living from this place offers a softness even in the face of mean spirited or aggressive energy.

And then being with my family – witnessing together that this is now part of who we are as a family – what we faced together. Awaking on a Sunday morning and riding downtown by 8 am was no small feat!  And even minimal complaints from my kids after a 3 mile walk! 🙂

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Cutting of the E bracelets!!

Tomorrow is September 7th – exactly 2 months since my mastectomy on July 7th and exactly 4 months since my diagnosis on May 7th.  Yes I happen to like the synchronicity of the numbers.  There has been so much synchronicity in this process that I figure I need to keep going with the sevens and the two month increments.

So how about tomorrow we all collectively cut off our sweet little “e” bracelets that Ms. Julie Smith so lovingly made.  Having you all wear the “e” all summer in solidarity with me was such a tangible and meaningful gesture.  I felt so connected with all of you as I traversed this path and as I have said again and again, it was this connection, this presence of love that has stayed with me – lifted me up and propelled me forward.  So if your bracelet has not fallen off already, how about at some point tomorrow you cut your bracelet…knowing that cutting them signifies to me the “cutting” or the “ending” of this Breast Cancer.


In preparation for Sept. 7th and knowing that I wanted to mark this date somehow, I also took a morning last week to re-read all of the cards and notes so many of you sent to me.  I sat in my garden, tears streaming down my face, as I read again the wise, funny, and poignant words so many of you shared with me.  It was helpful to read again since many of them I had read during my drug induced post surgery state! haha.


I will be keeping my “e” in a magical container that my kids and I created to mark this milestone.  I am filled with gratitude as I move toward the next “date” of Nov. 10th for my reconstructive surgery.  Still keeping the 2 month increments but the 7th was a Saturday! hehe.

Thank you fear…thank you body

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately.  Well I’m not really thinking about it as much as feeling it.  It reared it’s head yesterday as I ventured to a Barre 3 class with my friends Julie and Marykay.  I won’t say “reared it’s ugly head” because I just don’t think that fear is really ugly.  I think every emotion serves its purpose – is there for a reason.  The sooner we tune in to what that emotion is trying to show us, the sooner its job is done and it will dissipate.  For as Rilke says, “No emotion is final”.

My whole body is responding, finding it’s place after my mastectomy.  It’s figuring out how to move, how to align, how to be strong and whole again after this great disruption.  My back and shoulders are having a hay day.  I have an old shoulder injury that has been re-triggered.  No surprise – my entire chest is pulling everything forward, creating stress at the very site of my old injury.  And then there is pain. And pain changes everything.  My sleep is upset, and we all know what happens when we are running on fumes.  We don’t then have the energy to repair and heal…the very thing that need to happen.  Ironic.

So I have worked diligently on connecting with my new body – although sometimes painful – to find out what it needs to heal.  I have been dancing, taking walks in the woods, doing physical therapy, MELTing (which is using a soft foam roller and rubber balls to move the connective tissue), breathing, and sensing…and at the current moment my body feels ok, more aligned and connected and the pain is gone.

But the fear of it returning is always right there.

I can feel the tenuousness of my body – one wrong twist or bend – and everything will be back where it was.  So that is the fear that showed up yesterday in Barre and what has showed up in moments this week at Nia.  I am used to dancing almost every day.  I am used to dancing so freely.  I am used to mobility and flexibility and strength.

And now that fear is speaking to me, just below the surface of my movement, it says,

“move carefully.  Move slowly.  Sense what you are doing.”

That voice can so frustrate me at times.  I want to tell it to “f— off”.  But in my clearer moments, I honor its wisdom.  I thank my fear for showing me the path back to my wholeness.  And by acknowledging, listening, and honoring its message, I know I will grow stronger and more fluid, I know that my body will get back to the dance of freedom so that my fear no longer has to rear its head.

For that I say thank you fear.  Thank you body.

Back to work, back to school, back to it!

Today is my first day back in my office seeing clients.  I was not prepared for it being so emotional.  But man if this journey is anything, it is a lot of transitions.  Transition to believing that I really did have Breast cancer, transition to ending my work, transition to surgery, recovery, transition to believing that I really don’t have cancer, transition to feeling better and then feeling worse after a fill, and then better again, starting my work again, and then in Nov. having my second surgery – my reconstruction.

That’s right – I’ve now booked that date – Nov. 10th is the reconstruction.  Yes I really wanted it to be on the 7th for synchronicity sake, but Nov. 10th is a good date (AJ’s and Zander’s soccer number) and will hopefully be in time to step into 2016 with this all really behind me.  Plus, be ready for ski season! 🙂

It felt nice this morning to actually get dressed in work clothes and pack my lunch as well as the kids and have yet another part of “me” returned.  But it is also a lot to step back into.  As my wise colleague said to me this morn, “isn’t it funny that we are therapists and then we get surprised by our own emotional responses”!  Ha – yes it is!

I guess as crazy as it sounds maybe there is a “loss” here.  A loss of this time that was unlike any other in my life…while it was filled with so much anxiety, anger, and frustration, it was also filled with such tenderness, love, and slowness.  I am working on how to integrate some of what I have learned into my life.  The slowing down is certainly a theme for me – so starting with 3 clients today was perfect!  Not jumping right back into my Nia teaching will hopefully allow more clarity to emerge regarding my direction and path from here.  Also, spending more time alone has been a gift.  I have learned to cherish solo hikes in the forest, quiet time on my hammock, and soothing epson salts baths.  I hope to keep these with me as I transition to being “back to it”!

Turning Corners All Over

As several friends have pointed out, I have not been a very good blog updater! 🙂  So…here are some updates.  Last Sunday night was my first night sleeping on my back…no wedge pillows and arm pillows – the “spaceship” as AJ calls it is gone! Almost exactly when I hit week 3 post surgery last Tuesday, my energy started increasing and day by day I feel a bit more of myself peeking through. I ended up spending the week in White Salmon with Avery and my folks and several visitors throughout the week.  As many of you know, that White Salmon view of the gorge breathes calm and peace into my bones.  The change of scenery, my dad being my personal chef, my mom being my walking partner, and Avery being Avery was just what I needed. Visits from friends, long coffee talks, playing games, reading in the hammock, trips to the beach and a swimming hole (no I wasn’t cliff jumping like my son) but I got to enjoy it all.  Happily reunited with AJ (who had been home working) and Zander (who had been at overnight camp) for the weekend was a perfect cap to a much needed week in the gorge!

And then today was big!  I just felt like me.  I got up with the kids, made them breakfast, drove (for the first time) them to camp, and then ran some errands.  And I felt so happy doing that!  Who knew being back doing everyday things would bring me such joy.  And then I danced!  That’s right today was my first day back on the dance floor.  I went to a Nia class called “Moving to Heal”.  It moved me to tears.  Feeling my body be able to do things that even days ago it couldn’t do.  I had this moment like “my body is amazing”.  It went through all this – and it is healing beautifully.  Day by day, relearning, reorganizing itself, reintegrating and I felt so proud.

I still have moments of anger, disbelief, sadness, and frustration but I can see where I am headed and I feel utter gratitude for this.  Thank you all for your phone calls, texts, cards, and endless love and support.  The meal train has been AMAZING!!  So very helpful and yummy and we LOVE it!  Thank you.  Really, I am so blessed to have each of you in my life.