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  • Radical Rituals at B ...
    This year I’m
    doing something
    different than my
    usual tradition of
    pithy punch list of
    lessons learned to
    wrap this series of
    entries up.
    I’m writing
    this last entry
    exactly two weeks
    after we got home
    from the burn, b ...
  • Radical Rituals at B ...
    Monday morning I
    woke up early and
    decided that I
    wanted to do one
    more personal ritual
    before we had to
    break down and pack
    up our yurt and load
    the truck and leave.
    So I took my handpan
    and one of our
    little chairs and
    walked ou ...
  • Radical Rituals at B ...
    Sunday is always a
    tough day at the
    burn because we have
    to strike
    tough physically of
    course but
    it’s also
    tough emotionally
    because it feels
    like the setting and
    the vibe we worked
    so hard to put toge ...
  • Radical Rituals at B ...
    Saturday was my only
    day with nothing
    pre-planned and
    nothing I had
    committed to do. The
    burn was almost over
    and I was starting
    to feel nibbles of
    FOMO (Fear Of
    Missing Out) so I
    was determined to go
    see some more art
    (especially ...
  • Radical Rituals at B ...
    Because I had
    actually gotten
    enough sleep, I woke
    up reasonably early
    on Friday morning.
    Josh was still
    asleep, but I wanted
    to take advantage of
    the relative
    coolness of the
    morning and go do
    something. So I
    decided to take my h ...


A blog in which Our Heroine records, reflects and wrestles with meaning. With lots of asides.
Tags >> identity work

Monday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year (5777 on the Jewish calendar). I went with my family to services at our synagogue, where we helped greet and hand out prayerbooks to people, sang, prayed and listened to moving poems, personal stories and the amazingly loud “wake-up” blasts of the shofar. I even chanted two verses of Torah in front of the whole congregation (this is more impressive than it sounds, considering I don’t read Hebrew and had to memorize the whole thing, including the intricate up-and-down traditional melodies). After services, we went out to lunch at our favorite bagel store.

I mention this because this is exactly what we were doing last year on Rosh Hashanah when I got the voicemail from the Marin Breast Health Center telling me that the test results from my mammogram re-do were back and they wanted me to call them (it’s never good news when they ask you to call back to hear test results instead of telling you right then and there). If you’ve been reading this blog over the last year, you know the rest of that story (and if you haven’t, well, spoiler alert: it wasn’t good news). In this time of anniversaries (one year since my breast cancer diagnosis, my triumphant return to Burning Man after the Year of Living Cancerously) and of High Holidays-inspired introspection and t’shuvah (re-turning, redemption) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to put this past year in perspective and what I want from the year ahead. This post is an attempt to record and reflect on some of this t’shuvah work.

So now it’s not only a new year, it’s also time for a new stage of my life: post-cancer. It’s the time when I get to switch from being a patient patient to being a survivor. (Not that you ever really are “cured” and of course I’m still in the recurrence danger zone for the next five years, which is why all the chemo and hormone therapy, but the active phase of treatment and recovery is now over.) On the one hand, I am enjoying being able to celebrate surviving all that I had to endure and I am excited to finally be able to put a confident, weighty period at the end of the sentence “I had cancer and went through treatments and now I’m better.” Yet the other hand is busy holding the question: “so what do I do now”? That’s a big and heavy question, and the answer isn’t necessarily obvious.

All The Updates, All At Once

Posted by: julia

Tagged in: wrestle , solipsistic , reflect , record , memory , life , lessons , inspirational , identity work , cancer , Burning Man

Well well, it’s been a while, eh? Rest assured that the delay was not due to lack of things to report on, but as usual that there were too many distractions. Josh and I went on a trip to Ashland (yay Shakespeare!), the kids went back to school, and mostly what kept me away from the computer was the usual time-and-energy suck of getting ready for and then being at (and now recovering from) Burning Man. Anyway it is clearly time for some updates. Maybe not ALL the updates, as the title of this post seems to promise, but at least a bunch at once.

Patient Patient Update

So how has it been going for the patient patient, you might be wondering? Well, I’m happy to report that for the last few weeks I have no longer felt like a patient, (which is probably why I stopped updating so often). In fact, I am feeling pretty strong and healthy, all things considered, and almost entirely back to a normal-to-me level of activity. Actually, as of around mid-August (when I was approximately 6 weeks away from the reconstruction surgery), I was feeling like I was mostly recovered, at least as far as standing up straight and using/moving my body. (I was still dealing with somewhat lower energy levels, which mostly made me want to nap more often.) I went to a follow up visit with Dr. Sbitany on August 19th where he basically told me that I looked great (from his “proud of my handiwork” point of view) and I could do whatever I wanted now with no more restrictions. He encouraged me to massage the scars and scar tissue and we talked about the final “clean-up” surgery (in which my areolas get made circular again and various lumps and bumps are addressed). That final surgery sounds like it will be relatively minor and not require a hospital stay or drains or a long recovery time or anything. (Whew!)  I have yet to schedule that surgery but am hoping it can be some time in early November (since I’ve already hit my deductible for this year).

The Revenge of the Feels and the Mental Game

Posted by: julia

Tagged in: wrestle , solipsistic , reflect , life , lessons , identity work , cancer

Okay, I’m back. And the good news is, I’m a week and a half past the mastectomy surgery (which went as well as these things can go) and healing up great. However, it’s taken me a good long time to get clear enough (physically and emotionally) to be able to put together a blog entry about what’s been going on since my surgery. First, of course, I was all sleepy and loopy from the pain meds and the anesthetic leaving my system, and it was hard to do anything, let alone write. Then, once that fog began to lift and my body started feeling a little bit better, my feels kicked in and I had quite a few days of (understandably justified) teary upset and depression. I certainly had anticipated some of the reasons why I might be upset and depressed (see last entry’s navel-gazing), but the actual, physical reality of losing the boobs and starting the cyborg process was now obvious to me in a way it hadn’t been (and couldn’t have been) before it was actually happening/had happened right there in my body. And yeah, I’d been right—amputating pieces of your body is definitely upsetting, no matter how ready you think you are for it, how justified you are in doing so, or how courageously you look ahead to future gain. Grief will not be denied and this was a grief-worthy event.

Honestly, the mental game has been (and no doubt will continue to be) the hardest part of both the mastectomy and the overall cancer saga. Physical healing is tough, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been blessed with a strong constitution and enough leisure and disposable income to supplement that natural constitution with a whole variety of self-care activities. And yes, I’ve had the experience and lessons learned from my first cancer rodeo to guide me and help prepare me for playing the mental game of this new cancer experience. But when the body is compromised, and the broken-scared-anxious-despairing-worthless-pointless-hopeless-grieving feels crash in with a depressive tsunami, it is really, really hard to stay positive and courageous or even involved with normal life. Time seems to drag and it feels like nothing will ever get better and new normal is too far away to bring any comfort in the now. For a good long while after the surgery all I could do was keep going and try to find ways to distract myself from thinking too much so I could get through each day, and then eventually the days would pile up and I’d make it far enough to realize that things had changed and hopefully gotten better.

And that’s what happened. Eventually enough days did pile up, and my body healed up enough, and I let the feels tell me what they wanted to tell me and tried to listen respectfully without getting too caught up in the “always/never/forever” parts of them. Now I’m starting to be able to process what’s happened and talk and write about it and arrange my narrative(s) in a way that is beginning to make sense and have some true meaning to me. So I think I’m winning the mental game again. I’m still grieving, I’m still upset and uncomfortable, but it’s better enough now that I can also balance all that with the comfort and relief that increased involvement in the rest of my life brings. I am more confident now, given the evidence immediately available to hand of positive improvement over time, that I am not always going to be this broken and weak and distracted. I am still myself, and myself is still too curious and enthusiastic about life to be put down for long. (Myself is also impatient, which I recognize is a large part of the problem here but unfortunately seems to come baked in to my personality.)

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