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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 >> life

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.)

Yeah, I know it’s been a long while between posts, but here we are again. I have several things to report on the cancer treatment front, and some musings about ending one phase of the process while also looking ahead to the next.

First and most exciting to report is that I had my final chemo treatment last week. While it’s still going to be about another week or so until I’m fully recovered from the not-so-fun collection of chemo side effects (including spaciness and fatigue, both of which make it hard to blog), I must say that reaching the end of this chemo phase makes me super happy. To celebrate, I brought along some tiny bubble wands (with pink hearts on top!) and got my mom and Josh to blow them with me down in the Meditation Room (the overprotective nurses at the infusion center didn’t want me to blow them there—fine, be that way). Now I get to look forward to my hair and eyebrows growing back, which will hopefully start sometime in the next month or two. It’s not unreasonable to expect that by the end of summer I’ll have an actual hairstyle and can say goodbye to the crazy colored wig extravaganza. It’s been entertaining to be pink- and purple- and blue- and green-haired, but I’d way rather have my dark hair with sparkles back.

Now that the chemo phase is over, though, it’s time to turn my (and my team’s) attention back to the surgical phase of treatment. Therefore, the day after my last chemo treatment last week (while I was still feeling reasonably energetic from the steroids they gave me the day before), I went back to UCSF to meet with my breast surgeon, Dr. Ewing, and my plastic surgeon, Dr. Foster, and talk about next steps. When we had last left Our Heroine, these two docs had already successfully performed on me a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node removal, along with a “nipple-saving” breast reduction, in preparation for the upcoming double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. We put those other surgeries on hold while I completed chemo, but now it was time to get that ball rolling again.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Posted by: julia

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

(Sorry, couldn’t resist that post title.)

So a few days ago I went in to my trusted hairdresser Tracy (whom I’ve known for many years...she was the one who transformed me from long hair to shorter hair about 8 years ago) for my chemo haircut. In other words, the “cut it all off before I lose it” haircut. I had many people counsel that it would be easier if I had a little transition time with super short hair before getting to total baldness (and I think that was wise advice). I’d made the appointment a few weeks ago, and was dreading it as the time approached. Not because I thought I’d look bad with short hair, or that my hairdresser would do a bad job (she’s awesome). Rather, I was dreading it because I knew it was going to be another externally imposed transition, one that, just like with the boob reduction, touches on (and frankly, squeezes and stomps all over) core presentation of self and body image identity issues.

Now, I’ve done a lot of identity work in my life around my “outside standard beauty norms” body. (I’ve blogged about some of this before.) I had grown accustomed to and finally even proud of my zaftig curves, my curly hair, my Jewish nose. Sure, I knew I’d probably benefit from losing some weight, but I’d mostly made my peace with the pros and cons of extra flesh and knew how to work with it.  I had also finally gotten to a point in my life where I was feeling pretty confident about my personal style (the clothes I wear, my hair and jewelry and accessory choices). So in general, I was pretty happy with the way I looked and the self I presented to the world. But cancer came along (AGAIN) and has been messing with that confidence, over and over. First it was the vast reduction in boobage (which even now nearly three months later, I am still displeased and distressed about, and we’re not even done messing with the boobage yet). Now it’s the hair. Dammit, I was happy with my hair. I had finally settled on a length and style I liked, I had dialed in my preferred styling products, and I was enjoying having all the sparkly colorful tinsel bits in it.

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