Category Archives: Cancer/Body Image

Cabin Fever

Step…stop…wait. Step…stop…wait. Step…stop…wait.

The single-file procession to board the plane extended from the gate door all the way to our seats. Upon clearing the door, we were greeted by the flight attendant who welcomed each passenger as if in a trance. Her smile appeared affixed permanently to her face. She paused the “welcome…good morning” chant just long enough to retrieve the seat belt extension that I requested.

That’s right…seat belt extension. Airplane seats and restraints are sized for the thinner side of our society. Before learning about the extension, I struggled to secure the belt around my abdomen and then would be miserable for the duration of the flight. One observant flight attendant noticed this a few years ago and offered relief. Since then, I don’t hesitate to request an extension. But usually my request is discrete. Quietly requested so the people around me couldn’t hear. I was ashamed that I needed the added belt to contain my girth. I felt as if I were being judged and was embarrassed. But not on this flight. This time I spoke in my normal tone. This time I didn’t attempt to hide the extension. I have to admit that I’m still not happy about the added weight from my chemo treatments. But I no longer torture myself (mentally) about it. Thanks to the amazing online body image class I attended earlier this year (titled “More to Love”), I am comfortable in my skin. Check it out if you can relate and want to change your life.

Taxi to the tarmac.
The wails of an unhappy child break through the silence of the cabin. The intensity of the cries peak and wane as the child’s mother attempts to provide comfort.

Cleared for take-off.
The cries were drowned out momentarily by the roar of engines preparing for take-off. Screams erupted as the plane started to accelerate and continued until we leveled out at 30,000 feet. My heart went out to them. It was obvious the child was terrified of the experience. And there’s no way to explain air travel to someone so young.

Close your eyes…relax.
I didn’t get much sleep the previous night and was looking forward to a brief nap. I figured that since there was no beverage or food service during the flight, I would be able to sleep. Boy was I wrong. Within minutes of leaving the ground, a strong odor attacked my nose. A full-on assault from somewhere behind row 19. It wasn’t a particularly unpleasant scent. If it weren’t so strong, it could be considered a pleasant fragrance. But the aroma was SO intense…SO heavy…I could taste it. There was nothing I could do to wash the smell out of my mouth. I tried breathing through the sleeve of my shirt. Slight improvement but the taste was still there. I couldn’t get away from it. I was trapped. My husband reminded me of a notice we saw regularly at the cancer treatment center. The sign requested that people avoid wearing fragrances in the building. Strong scents intensify the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. If I were still undergoing treatment, one whiff of this scent would have deposited my breakfast on my feet.

DA.DA.DA..DAAAA. Blip…Blip…Blip… DA.DA.DA..DAAAA. It wasn’t long before another obstacle emerged in my quest for sleep. Someone was playing a video game…very successfully. The DA.DA.DA..DAAAA was like a trumpet announcing the passing to the next stage of the game. I found myself wondering whether the game was being played on a cell phone. Could ear plugs be used for the device? How long will this go on before the game is silenced?

With sleep alluding me, I pondered the question of common courtesy. It seems like a sense of entitlement has pervaded our current society. I wondered whether the fragrance and video game scenarios fit into this equation. Instead of thinking only of themselves, a person should consider their impact to others in such a confined, enclosed space. If one considers the larger good, common courtesy would lead them to postpone application of the fragrance. I would assume that common courtesy would also dictate that the video game be played with earphones or the volume turned off or not played at all. To take this concept further, let me quote the death scene exchange between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and show my inner geek). I ask you, shouldn’t the “…needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” in an airplane?

Blueberry Respite

Thump…Thump…Thud…Clank….Thump…Thud…Clank…Clank…JACKPOT – OH MY GOD…THIS BUSH IS LOADED! Check this out…these berries are the size of quarters!

The melody of the berries hitting the inside of the pail was intoxicating. The rhythm interrupted by the sporadic voices of the families that rose early to gather berries for breakfast. Yes…today’s breakfast. We alternated between berries in the pail and berries in our mouth. At the Baumhart Blueberry Farm, it’s totally acceptable – even encouraged – to sample berries as you pick. And boy did we sample. The squirt of the sweet juice upon contact with your tongue was so satisfying. Only quality berries like these could bring me out to the fields on this hot, sticky Ohio morning.

Picking LowMy sister, Alisa, had already been picking for two hours by the time James and I arrived. She likes to spend her free time in the summer at the berry farm. She heads to the fields for herself and even for family and friends. She relishes her time inside the net draped enclosures – a quiet, serene respite from the outside world. Alisa is such a fixture in the fields that farm staff regularly search for her to inquire if she has berries to sell…and they in turn – provide to patrons stopping by for a quick purchase. Today, they came riding through the dirt path outside the enclosure on three separate occasions to retrieve the sea of blue from her pail. Over the course of the summer, her total berry haul weighed in at over 70 pounds. And that doesn’t include the ones she picked for others!

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. My mind couldn’t absorb how picking berries could be so relaxing. But within minutes I was in the zone – perhaps triggered by that first succulent sample. I’ll never know for sure! My picking approach was far from productive. As we moved along the bushes, Alisa shared tips on finding the best berries. “Most people pick the outside and at height level. So you need to dig deep and go low on the bush. The berries they miss have more time to grow and ripen.” She coached me to use a two-handed technique. One to gently roll the berries and the other to catch the dropping fruit. If the berries are ready to be picked, they will drop off the bush with the slightest touch. And BOY was she right – on all fronts. Just look at the size of these berries!Blueberry Closeup

A gentle breeze flowing over the fields periodically interrupted the heat of the day. The fresh, clean burst of air rustled the bushes just enough to entice the beetles to take flight. They buzzed around momentarily before settling back to their feeding frenzy. These lucky beetles had exploited a weakness in the netting allowing them free rein at the table.

As we moved between the rows, you couldn’t help but overhear conversations. I found the banter of the younger children amusing. “Hey Mom, there’s TONS of berries over here!” exclaimed a young boy as he jumped up and down…pointing in the direction of the heavily laden limbs. One particular exchange made me chuckle out loud. The Mother explained to her daughter that she should only pick the dark blue berries. She then held a sample berry – a deep purplish-blue berry – for her daughter to observe. A few minutes later, the little girl declared “But Mommy, this one is red and it tastes good.” I wonder how many partially ripened berries made their way into that berry pail?  No matter…the memories that they created that morning will last a lifetime.

After three hours, James and I were ready to go. We were shocked when the scale flashed the results of our efforts. We picked 22 pounds of berries! What did we do with all the berries, you may ask? We packed our berries in dry ice and transported them home for year-round snacking. Berries from the store just can’t compete with those that go from field to freezer within hours. Blueberries are loaded with anti-oxidants and are highly recommended by the Cancer Dietician.

Funny thing though. Before chemo, I didn’t like blueberries. Not fresh, not on cereal, not even in pancakes or muffins. Chemo did a number on my body and thrush was an immediate reminder of the destruction going on at a cellular level. With every infusion I battled thrush. During the first week after treatment, everything tasted metallic – even water. The second week after treatment is hard to describe. The best description I can muster is dirty…everything tasted like pond scum. Of course, I don’t know what pond scum tastes like but it seems as good a comparison as any. By the end of the third week, food started to become appealing. But then the cycle started all over again. After my last infusion, I realized that I no longer enjoyed many of my favorite foods. So, now I try everything because I don’t know what I will like. Which brings me back to the blueberries. I LOVE blueberries…and wine. Oh yea, wine is another pleasant outcome of thrush…but that’s a story for another time.Dorothy Picking Berries

My Cancer Free Anniversary

There are many opinions on when you become cancer-free, a survivor. Does the clock start ticking when a scan or blood tests comes back with no evidence of cancer cells? Is it after chemotherapy…or after radiation? Or is it after the initial cancer surgery when you have clean margins…or the lymph nodes are clear? And I wonder why I even need to identify how long I’ve been cancer-free? Yet another line of questioning where I find myself turning to Cancer Services.

During the Breast Cancer Support Group, I realized that determining a cancer-free anniversary gives you a consistent point in time to pause for celebration. Regardless of where you are in the journey…still in the shadow of the disease or living your new “normal”…its good to acknowledge the life you have. And the timing of this milestone is a personal decision for each survivor.

I became a survivor two years ago today.

A tumor was removed from my left breast along with four lymph nodes on July 25, 2012. The doctor announced clean margins meaning that the tissue surrounding the tumor was free of cancer cells. The lymph nodes were also clean indicating that it is not likely the cancer had spread into other areas of my body. This was exactly what we had hoped and prayed to hear! Continue Reading My Cancer Free Anniversary

Metamorphosis

After my body image epiphany in the “More to Love” class, I was drained but floating on “Cloud Nine”. I embraced each new assignment in anticipation of continued break-through. The effort to complete each task and the insights gained from it were totally dependent on where I found myself  emotionally on the topic. And that’s where the beauty of this class shined! I was fortunate to be part of a wonderful group of ladies who shared their experiences and their hearts with each new day. We formed an amazing bond of trust and acceptance as we posted to our secret Facebook group. As I devoured the daily posts it became obvious that we were dealing with the same issues though the specific details were different. We offered sympathy and encouragement through the lows and applauded each victory! We started the month as strangers, maybe even a band of mis-fits, but ended the month celebrating as sisters! Continue Reading Metamorphosis

Ashes to Epiphany

The first assignment during the “More to Love” (MTL) class was to create a permission slip for how we would approach the next 28 days.  For me, this meant carving time out of day-to-day life to focus only on me.To understand the difficulty of this task, you need to know that I’m really good at over-committing and dedicating time for everyone else. MTL Permission SlipBut, not so good at focusing on myself or prioritizing my needs first. When I put myself first, I always felt guilty. As if I’m not as worthy of attention as the people around me. I know this wasn’t true…but that was my mode of operation.

So I took a deep breath and started the assignment. I used the free  photo editing website (picmonkey.com) that was introduced by the Rachel Estapa, the MTL class founder. This is the result of my first adventure with PicMonkey – a fun and very easy-to-use tool. Continue Reading Ashes to Epiphany

Inspiration from “A Fat Girl Dancing”

In March 2014, I was passing through the living room where my husband was watching television. The words of a local personality caught my attention with the announcement that Whitney Way Thore from the viral videos “A Fat Girl Dancing” would be in the next segment.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe that this was the first time I’d heard about Whitney, her “No Body Shame Campaign” or the positive body image movement that is spreading over the country. After watching the interview, I was intrigued and wanted to know more so I did an internet search on “No Body Shame Campaign” and landed on Whitney’s website. At that time, the website mentioned the “More to Love” class (MTL) with Rachel Estapa and even provided a coupon toward the next class that was forming on March 31st.

I eagerly read about the MTL class and decided to give it a try. The cost was reasonable AND I figured that if Rachel was able to help Whitney, then perhaps she could help in my quest to accept my new body…the body that was left after cancer treatments. Continue Reading Inspiration from “A Fat Girl Dancing”