Thursday, May 30, 2013

Henayne - HERE I AM!

I was super shy as a kid.  I hated it when people looked at me and I never liked to look people in the eye. When my sisters really wanted to get to me, they would just stare at me. Being the typical youngest child, I would tattle tale and yell to my Mom, "Missy and Megan are looking at me," and my Mom trying to appease the chaos of the situation would simply yell back, "Girls, stop looking at your sister!" And sure enough they would stop, but I knew future stares were always looming and I would simply grow frustrated wishing I had a better comeback than being the all dreaded tattle tale.

This story keeps coming to mind lately. With two chemo treatments under my belt, I have officially shaved my head. While I have a fabulous wig, in this immediate phase I am more prone to wearing scarves - primarily because of the Texas heat, but also, because I think they are kind of cute.  But, I am also acutely aware that it calls attention and stares from strangers to the fact that I am, well, I'm not really sure (am I sick?) and therefore susceptible to personal insecurities, fear of judgement and labels from others.

I find myself in this unknown territory of having to let go of the perceptions of myself that I was so sure defined who I am. I realize that without the personal judgements and labels (the career driven entrepreneur, the loyal friend, the avid yoga student), is a very simple and pure space of ourselves that is unknown.  It is uncomfortable and at times very scary and can often feel like weakness. And for me, weakness has simply never been an option. I've always known myself as a strong person, inside and out.  And in many ways I realize I still am. But this experience has humbled me and I find myself discovering that strength is a powerful force, completely outside our control.  It isn't necessarily about powering through but rather surrendering and relying on and connecting with others, particularly in those times we can't do it for ourselves. It is a time to let our true essence shine bright.

There is a hebrew term - henayne - it means "HERE I AM."  This is perhaps the one word I retained from my hebrew school education, but a powerful one. That is what I feel like true strength is.  Showing up regardless of how we see ourselves and letting ourselves simply be seen, often times in our most stripped down and vulnerable moments.

And so, probably 30 years later, I have my comeback when people are looking at me. I see it not as judgement or fear which were based on my own insecurities anyways, but a gift to show up and say HENAYNE!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thanks Angie. Now What?

Like so many people, I was surprised by the news of Angelina Jolie and her articulate and eloquent article sharing her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy and bringing light to the issue around the BRCA genetic mutation. 

I was filled with a wide range of thoughts and emotions after reading the article. Admittedly my first reaction, was that of empathy and gratitude. I felt connected with Angie (can I call her Angie)?  Then,  a slew of politically incorrect thoughts ran through my head:
  • At least I am on trend (less the preventative piece)
  • I wonder how many ccs she woke up with in her expanders? 

And then some very angry and irrational thoughts:
  • What about the MILLIONS of women who were faced with the decision to take the test already diagnosed where it wasn't necessarily a choice?
  • What about the women who don't have the gene, have breast cancer and fighting every single day without a single indication as to why this happened?
  • Really - I was just beginning to forget about all this, now it's everywhere and I feel like I'm reliving it with each new headline.
  • Re: men making ignorant comments on Facebook and other sites- Shut the F_CK up! UNFRIENDED

It is hard to describe what an incredibly difficult and personal decision to take the test is.  For me, it was after I was already diagnosed and it was less a choice and more necessary to inform the strategy for my treatment. But the emotional angst leading up to the test was perhaps the most challenging part.  

The build up alone requires you to reflect on family history and in turn those who are no longer with us which alone is heartbreaking.  Then the reality that the results impact not just you, but your entire family. If I tested positive, that would influence my sisters, cousins, and niece and their futures. It was a burden I felt too responsible to bear. I ultimately tested negative, but I know so many women who have tested positive, and as Angie describes, it is an empowered step that can inform women's future health. I also know many women who may fall within the described risk factors and have chosen not to take the test. They are living their lives being present and enjoying life. And for me, that is just as empowered and brave. 

But the most important thing to consider is NOW WHAT?  Hopefully people are getting useful information, but below are a few links that I feel provide women some very tangible steps:

1. Assess your risk - Bright Pink is a great organization that has a helpful risk assessment tool. If you don't fall within the risk factors, this particular test is not relevant to you. Regardless, speak to your doctor. 

2. Check your boobs - Hopefully this is a given, but self exams and mammograms are a must. I of course would advocate to start now - regardless of age (I am 38), particularly if any of the risk factors are relevant to you. At a minimum, it is good to get a baseline.

3. Empowering others - Supporting other women and organizations that support women's health is key. Planned Parenthood, Pink Ribbons Project, and Bright Pink are just a few organization s that help women who may not have access.  But explore in your community.

It has been an overwhelming week for me being flooded through media with this news while facing my own journey.  But I have to say, I feel such a global sense of connectedness with so many women right now - including Angie.  

Needless to say, the fact that she went public was extremely brave and brought a very articulate reality to the process and acknowledges how far medicine has come. The fact that we can wake up the next day from surgery still feeling like (or at least looking like) a woman is so important to share. She is so right on in saying what an empowered process it can be and the importance of being surrounded by love and support as key to that. 

But most importantly, she is using celebrity in a way to educate, empower and get a very important conversation going.  That alone  is to be celebrated. So from one sister to another - I am proud of you Angie.

We got this..

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Don't Scratch The Itch?

Several months ago, I was having the loveliest conversation with a dear friend of mine who recently attended a yoga/meditation retreat.  She shared that the teacher/guru brought up a concept I thought was so tangible: "What happens if you don't scratch an itch?"

If you think about it, the opportunity to truly be present with an "itch" is an interesting one. The premise that if you scratch it, your reactive (ego) self is looking for a quick fix. But, what happens if we just let it be? Basically, I found that you can actually breathe yourself through an itch and just be present with it and it simply goes away or moves into another sensation.  At the time I thought it was so profound. That was of course, until I entered my journey with the "Big C" and realized that healing involves a lot of itches.

The body is amazing as it moves through the healing process, and often times the quicker the healing, the itchier you get.  So while I like to pride myself on being a miracle healer after my surgery, lets just say it was an itchy miracle.

And then of course, as I have entered my chemo journey, there is the head itch. They say that around Day 12-14 your hair will start to fall out and as the head prepares for this, there is a lot of itching.

The good thing about chemo is that it is very predictable and there are certain data points that are informal absolutes. So while I hear the doctors share specific details such as Day 3 you will really start to feel it (I did) and Day 7-10 your counts are lowest (will find out tomorrow), and then this head itch thing,  there is still a part of me that feels like I will defy these absolutes.

But, I am also learning that as my world is so unpredictable right now, it is these absolutes that I am actually becoming to appreciate and finding great comfort and guidance in.  Part of befriending my chemo I suppose.  I will say that there is simply no greater teacher than chemo in being present every single moment - and for this I am grateful.

I'm itchy just writing this, but breathing deeply and realizing that some itches are meant to be transcended, and some are simply meant to be scratched. So for now, I find myself  really appreciating that "TINGLER" head massager I received from a white elephant party while embracing the balance of present and future itches.