30 December 2013

Best Breakfast, Ever.

This year was the most delicious Christmas dinner ever. It was the same menu, of course, but the combination of Vi’s moist turkey, and the sisters seasoning skills, made it super duper delicious.

But the contender for best Christmas Meal Ever was following the ice storm -  and it had nothing to do with a super-hot fireman (okay, it did).

Every year Jim does a toy drive. He and his colleagues collect money, and buy toys which they take it to the local fire hall, where volunteers distribute gifts for kids on Christmas morning. This year went according to plan, and they had dozens of bags of toys to give to the children. There was also a bit of money left over, so I volunteered to come with him for another shopping spree. The plan was that we’d buy the toys, drop them off, and go out for breakfast.

So we bought the toys, and headed to the local fire-hall. Driving was a slow because of the recent ice storm, and people were walking tentatively on the sidewalks. (But the trees were so beautiful!) We drove up to the fire station, and rang the doorbell. I envisioned a super hunk sliding down the pole – but nothing. We waited for a few minutes and looked through the window and realized there were no trucks. Everybody was out.

So we went to another fire hall. Same thing. Rang the bell, waited for a super hunk, and wriggled our toes to keep warm.

Let me grab the hot sauce
We drove on. The streets were pretty slippery, and some branches had started to fall. The streets, due to massive snow banks, were narrower than usual and cars had to inhale when passing.

I assumed that when you do a good deed it would be easy. I assumed that the effort comes with the providing, not the delivering. But I assumed wrongly. Firstly, things rarely go according to plan. Secondly, we are not that important. No matter what we are trying to do, there is always something bigger going on in the world. And this time it was Mother Nature. And due to Mother, there were a lot of domestic emergencies.

Later than morning we arrived at another Fire Hall and rang the bell. Jim peered through the window and saw a fire truck. A good sign. Seconds later the door was opened by a super hunk in a short-sleeved shirt with 22’ biceps. The smell of bacon came wafting from upstairs.  He smiled, 'Just got in, it's been a busy morning. We’re making breakfast.'

I would like to say that we were invited in for eggs, and that Mr. March and Mr. November were kneading bread in nothing but their boots. But that didn’t happen. What did happen is that we exchanged ‘Merry Christmas’s’ and went out for breakfast on our own. Amidst the storm and the bad coffee we felt small and humble in a city where so many people were working so hard to make things right.

And it was the best breakfast, ever.   

24 December 2013

No Nipples for Christmas


No nipples for Christmas.

Not that I was expecting any in my stocking, but it would at least be nice to have a surgery date so I could plan for their arrival. And that was the point of my visit when I visited the Plastic Surgery Clinic last week.

As usual, I’d gone into the examining room and stripped down to my underpants. I was just slipping into the familiar blue and white striped robe when there was a knock on the door. ‘Are you decent?’ came a soft Dutch accent. I started laughing, ‘Does it matter?’ I opened the door, and there stood Dr H, the man who had seen, touched, cut and sewed parts of my body that even I will never see. I considered my new boobs mine as much as his.

'Get your sister away from me!'
I showed him my scars. ‘They’re very red, aren’t they?’ Dr H nodded, and said that they were indeed very red. I told him I’d seen the scars of woman who had the same surgery, and they weren’t nearly this red. ‘Yours are aggressive,’ he said, in the least aggressive tone possible. I asked if that was bad, and he said no, it was just the way I was healing.

‘You’re surgery was October?’ he asked. I told him that it was June. I find it funny that the best doctors are always getting the smallest of facts wrong, especially since all the facts are on the clipboard in their hand. But I couldn’t hold it against him. Firstly, he’s been wonderful. And secondly he looked very tired. I’d heard he’d just recently returned from a trip away, where he’d been volunteering his services in a war torn country. Not that he went to do breast augmentation or anything like that. He’s more into microsurgery, tissue engineering, and the rebuilding of the face, head and neck.

‘So, nipples?’ I asked him. He shook his head, ‘Not yet’. He explained that my slow healing body needs more time to settle. A few more months, most likely.  However, he did say that I’m good to go for the final touches on my waist. Currently I look like Spongebob Squarepants, but after a little contouring, I expect to look like Barbie. (She doesn’t have nipples either). And I will go from a 17” scar to a possible 24”!

I got back into my clothes. Jeans, T-shirt, and light cardigan. I walked down the hall carrying my coat and felt a blast of cold air. Instinctively I pulled my cardigan closed; an instinctive chick reaction to cover the headlights. But my boobs are numb and I don’t have anything I need to protect.  No nips. At least not this Christmas.

But I did start thinking about a Christmas many years ago. My sister Susan, who at age eight, did not approve of dolls that are not anatomically correct. So she took my brand new Barbie, stripped her naked, and drew on a couple of nipples.  I was devastated, because I, at age seven, liked things to be exactly as they were in the package.

Times sure have changed though. My package is different. But once again I am spending Christmas with my family, including my sister. There will be liquor, and there will be magic Markers.

So maybe it won’t be a nippleless Christmas after all. 

11 December 2013

The Universal Language of Wine

Recently I visited Princess Margaret Hotel & Spa for my monthly lymphedema appointment.  I was sitting in the first class lounge enjoying my complimentary coffee when my name was called, and was surprised to find out that I was not there for a private session, but for a  ‘refresher class’ of lymphedema exercises.

Had I known it was a group activity, I would have cancelled.  I’ve yet to benefit from any group hospital activity, and I will only show up if I am the centre of attention. Also, treatment for canceritis takes up an awful lot of time, so I like to pare it down to essentials. But since I was there, and since my big fat puffy muppet hand was giving me trouble, I decided to stay.  I obediently filed into the small boardroom and took my seat at the table.

There were six of us, and nobody looked  fun. At least two of the woman looked like Miss Jane Hathaway, and one was a clone of my grade nine math teacher, Miss Bowmen. The nurse handed out diagrams of our lymphedema exercises and suggested we all do this together. This is not complicated stuff.  Head rolls, deep breathing, hand squeezes – I can do it in my sleep.  Not knowing how to make a gracious exit, I went along with it.

Ideally, we’re supposed to do these exercises twice daily. 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. Then there’s my 15 minutes of scar massage. Plus my regular yoga routine, and dog walks – and oh yes – a job. 

Lymphedema Massage
Excercise # 11.  (Optional)
Lymphedema Massage
Exercise # 11
So we went around the table rolling our heads, and shrugging our shoulders, and marching in our chairs. My inner self was counting down the moments till we were done, but the other ladies were all having a fabulous time. They were rolling and squeezing with enthusiasm.

After 45 minutes the nurse asked if anyone had any questions. I had but one. ‘How do we speed this up?’ She looked at me quizzically. I explained that sometimes I did not have time to do two 15 minutes exercise routines. The other ladies  furrowed their brows and murmured softly to each other. But what I really wanted to know was, if time was scarce, what are the essential exercises.

‘Say I’m tired…’ I said, and watched as eyebrows were raised and judgement wafted around the room. One of the Jane Hathaways cocked her head at me, silently questioning my priorities. And I get it. The treatment of side-effects is a job, and must be treated as such. Excuses not permitted.

‘Or say … I’ve having too many glasses of wine?’

The frowns turned to gentle smiles of understanding. ‘Ahhh’ said the ladies, nodding in unison.  Even the nurse smiled with understanding. ‘Well then, if you only have a few minutes,  just pay attention to the area that’s being affected.’

I’m not sure whether the ‘area being affected’ was my drinking hand or my lymphedema hand, but they happen to be tone and the same. So in the morning I’ll do my my full routine. And in the evening, another routine, if time permits. 

3 December 2013

I Don't Have Fleas!

That was the good news delivered to me by my dermatologist today.

On Friday my family Doctor told me that I was certainly a victim of some kind of bites. I’d spent the weekend, along with my three pets, itching and scratching, and knew there was something very wrong. While the doctor’s office was closed for the weekend, I had plenty of time to let my imagination run wild. My rash was also running wild. All over my back,  under my armpits, and a little on my tummy. 

 In my mind, we had a huge infestation of microscopic bloodsuckers that were slowly torturing us into frenzy.  Jim remained unscathed, for which I credited his swarthy Irish skin (Plus, I’m hairier). So I showed my doctor my rash, and she confirmed that I had bites. She asked if anyone else in the house was itchy and I confirmed that they were. Her diagnosis was fleas, or dust mites, or bed bugs.  I asked if my rash was actually a bunch of bites and she said that they were.

This flea has no good reason to be so happy
My Doctor (if she really is a Doctor) is very confident in her opinions. She told me that I should call public health, and they’d tell me how to check for bed bugs.  I started imagining our house without furniture, throwing away all my clothes, and shaving the dog and two cats. It would be the worst Christmas, ever. The doctor interrupted my yuletide thoughts, ‘Here’s a prescription for a cream.’

Today I visited a Dermatologist. She took one look at me and gave me her diagnosis. 
'You’ve got Contact Dermatitis, ‘ she said.
‘I think I’ve got bites’
‘It’s not bites. It’s a rash’
‘My pets are itchy. I think I have fleas. Or bed bugs’
‘They might have fleas. You don’t. You have a rash. Your shirts are probably too tight’
‘I don’t wear tight shirts. I think I have bedbugs'
‘You don’t have bites. You have a rash.’

Then she burst out laughing, and told me that the worst part of her job is trying to convince someone that they DO have bedbugs, and this is the first time she had to convince someone that they don’t.  I showed her the cream that my family doctor had prescribed. She snorted, and shoved it out of the way, ‘That’s for babies. Use this.’ And she wrote out a prescription for something way stronger.

I waked out onto Bloor St feeling like a million dollars. We wouldn’t have to shave the pets or toss out the sofa. And even though I was surrounded by people on a busy sidewalk, I didn’t care who heard me. I took out my cell phone and dialed Jim’s number.

‘Hey guess what ? I don’t have fleas!!’

28 November 2013

The One That Got Away

Recently I was sitting at my friend’s kitchen table. There were three of us girls, and as the conversation started to wander (kids, money) I turned it back to me.

It’s been a while since the world revolved around my surgery, and people rarely bring it up. I can’t go too long without thinking about it though, because he reminders are always there.

Firstly, there’s the 17” scar that affects the way I dress, and the way I move. I wear low riding pants and tuck in my T-shirts in to protect myself from the back of the metal button on the waistband. Also, anything more than a brisk walk and I can feel the tightness. Short bursts of running are okay, but I still feel like someone hit me in the stomach with a pie plate (I like pie). And then there are the weird Barbie boobs, that are starting to look less weird by the day. Still, I’d be an oddity in a woman’s changing room, and you can forget about a nude beach.

So friend # 1 was talking about something that was not about me. I broke in and said, ‘Does anyone want to see my scar?’ They both looked at me. ‘Sure?’ said #1 tentatively. Friend # 2 was more enthusiastic, ‘Yeah! I kinda do.' So I hiked my shirt and watched their faces.

I told ya so
‘Holy shit!’ they said in unison. With my belly exposed I watched their eyes widen and their mouths fall open. ‘It’s HUGE’, they said, ‘It looks like you were bitten by a shark!’ Their reaction was immensely satisfying.

But I was also curious about what they’d expected. Hadn’t I said it looked like I was sawed in half by a bad magician? I could have sworn I said it went from hip to hip and looked like jagged red teeth. 

So I asked, ‘What did you think it would look like?’
Friend #2 looked up at me over her glasses, ‘Well…not like this. I thought it was one of your exaggerations. You know.’

No! I did not know. ‘You thought I was exaggerating about all this?’
My friend cocked her head, ‘Well…yeah.’

Hmph. I wasn’t aware that I was an exaggerator. Interestingly, I thought that I toned things down in an attempt to make everything sound normal. Could it be that I pepper my adventures with anecdotes that are somewhat embellished? And could this be a desperate cry for attention because of my upbringing as a middle child? Perhaps I should lift up my shirt more often  - though it will be a while before I display my breasts.

So for the record, my scar really is a mother. No word of a lie.  And in the world of bites it looks like I was half eaten by a hungry Tiger Shark that was at least 12’ in length  And you should have seen the one that got away.

20 November 2013

Hugging For Dummies

I never used to be a hugger. In fact, I never really liked being touched.

But it’s no reflection on my parents.  I got as much warmth and love as any little child could ask for. It’s just that I couldn’t give it back.  I found the moments of hellos and good-byes very awkward, and the looks of expectation made me unable to perform. Basically, I froze, with my arms at my sides like a Ken Doll.

However I got hugged a lot. Either the adults in my life were oblivious to my awkwardness, or I was irresistibly cute, because they would frequently wrap themselves around me, smothering me with the scent of perfume and cigarettes.

When I grew up, my boyfriends would complain that I wasn’t affectionate enough.  I tried to be touchier – but it didn’t come easily and I couldn’t pretend I was someone I was not.  Maybe I just didn’t like them enough. Or maybe I just didn’t want to touch them in the places they wanted to be touched.

But something changed after my diagnosis. I became more affectionate, and reached out to bring people closer to me. Not only was I good at receiving affection but I started to dish it as well. Suddenly I started hugging. And once I learned to give a hug I was like Helen Keller discovering her first word. I ran around with my arms wide open, and gleefully wrapped them around anyone who came my way. I was in danger of becoming one of those drunken aunty ‘c'mere you….’ - kind of huggers.

C' mere you.....

But just as I was enjoying the hugging I got my new boobs. For the first three months after surgery I couldn’t hug for obvious reasons. And when I was ready to resume, I found my boobs had very little sensation.  Though they are pert and firm, they are almost numb, and I can’t feel the person against me. Essentially, I feel as though I’m hugging through a snowsuit.

Recently I heard on the radio that the average hug should last about three second, no less. It takes that long to make a connection with another being. Three second is quite long time when you think about it – but I think I can safely safe that I can fully embrace it, because I am somewhat of a hugger.

But another study said that a real hug should last 20 seconds. That is the ‘magic’ length needed to release oxcytocin in the body. Often referred to as the 'love' molecule, oxytocin is associated with helping couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attatchment. This 'happy hormone' is also linked to reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart diesease.  And 20 minute hug also reduces cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone that does bad things too your body.

So really, there’s no argument against a 20 minutes hug. Except that it goes on for an eternity. A whole third of a minute wrapped around someone else. Without any concept of whether or not my boobs are pressed against them. And it’s just long enough to have to shift a bit, and feel just a tiny bit awkward. And I spent the first 20 years of my life feeling awkward. So unless I’m hugging my Wingman, or someone I really like, (or a tree) I’m only a 3 second hugger. So for now, it’s back to square one for me.

1 November 2013

Quickly & Quietly

Sophia Loren says that the key to youth is to 'get up quickly and quietly'.

Me. (Not really)
And I'm not getting this from a discount source like People magazine or the Enquirer, either. It comes straight from my sister who once worked with Sophia, and got all her info from her hairdressers and make-up people who are Italian, devoted, and therefore totally reliable. (My sister also said that SL is as gracious and elegant as she appears.)

But the point to her theory is that you don't want to make any loud noises when you slowly get out of your seat. For instance, you don't want to be in a position where you have to grip the arms of your chair, and grunt, in order to stand up. Becoming erect shouldn't be a laborious process. Nor a long drawn out freak show where people quietly turn their heads and feign distraction while they're actually waiting for you to become upright.

What you need are good stomach muscles that will propel you out of your seat like a teenager.  I totally believe that the thing that separates us from our Granny is the ability to stand up at a moments notice. And for that you need a strong core.

This is on my mind a lot these days because it's been four months since I've crunched my tummy. And because I was on a belly-growing mission before that, I've barely done a sit-up since 2011. So even though I have a flat stomach, I am nowhere near tip-top shape. In fact, my abs are weak. In my private moments I allow myself to sink into our big cozy couch. When the phone rings, I roll slightly too my right, then make a grandpa noise, and push myself up with the arm that is not swollen like a big fleshy pork sausage. Then I lurch off the sofa and head of in the direction of the ringing, which has usually stopped.

But that won't do in public. Neither my freshly dyed hair nor my Levi demi-curve skinny jeans will make me look young on their own. In fact nothing will, when I'm huffing and puffing to get out of my seat. And so I perch. When I'm concerned about public approval I will sit on the edge of my seat (like an Italian movie star) with my knees together and my shins at a slight angle. When I need to stand up - I just float out of my chair as though a string is pulling up my head - and spring into action. No problemo!

I've watched Sophia Loren in interviews.  When sitting, her back is ramrod straight, and when standing, she owns the ground she walks on.  Here is a woman who will not allow her body to collapse, and would never ever wear sweatpants to the grocery store.

I don't know the secret to her magnificence. It could have something to do with Mediterranean genes, full lips, and bags of money - but I think not. The secret is inside of her, deep in her core. But without olive skin, lips,  and bundles of money to fall back on - I will do whatever she advises.  So I  try to get up rapido e silenziso, a la Sophia.

24 October 2013

Bachelor # 2

I lied.

Apparently I do have a crush on my Surgeon. I almost convinced myself that I was giving myself a pedicure for my own satisfaction. But alas, I’m just a cliché.

Sitting in the waiting room waiting for my date with Dr. H, I was feeling pretty good.  I was standing straight, had a nice haircut, and my toes were touched up with ‘Forever Yummy’ red. The nurse led me into the waiting room, saying, ‘Here’s your gown, the Doctor will be right with you.’

‘Who am I seeing today?’ I asked jauntily, alluding to the fact that there’s a big team and in the past I’ve been stuck with an eager Fellow.
‘Well’, she said, ‘I’ve got you with Dr R today.'
My heart sank, ‘Not Dr H?’
‘No,' she said, ‘Dr H was called into surgery.’

Not my Surgeon
Fuck.  I stripped off my clothes, put on the gown, and sat down angrily with my arms crossed across me chest. This was just so un-fun! I guess I’d been looking forward to seeing Dr H after all, and maybe getting a compliment with a soft Dutch accent.   During my previous appointment he’d told me that I looked really good, and that was when I was still hunched over. Wait till he sees how good I look now that I’m fully erect!

I played with my iphone for a while until Dr R entered the room. He came in tentatively, as though recognizing his inferiority, and took his place on the little rolling stool. Before he even spoke, I stood before him and opened my robe. He smiled politely and I noticed that his teeth were too big for his face. (Like he’d borrowed his dad’s dentures that were a couple of sizes too big, so he had to jam them in at an angle) Because he was sitting, I also noticed that he’d carefully styled his last few precious hairs over his soon-to-be bald head. Soon the rest of the world would find out too. Bachelor # 2 was a big disappointment.

Dr R asked about my scars, and gently ran his fingers over everything that had been sliced and diced in the last couple of months. Then he motioned me to sit, and showed me how to give myself a massage, to break up all the scar tissue. Even though I was sad, I enjoyed his soft strong hands. He opened my file, and asked me what my plans were regarding my next surgery. I must have made a face because he said, ‘I read your file. You’ve been through a lot.  You probably don’t want anyone touching you.’

It’s true. I had been through a lot. I nodded demurely and crossed my legs at the ankle, admiring my toes. Poor me.

Maybe it’s because he had my secret file in his hands, or maybe it was because he had big brown eyes and was wearing scrubs, but all of a sudden Dr R had moved from funny looking to mildly attractive. By the time he asked if I had any questions, I had the stirrings of a crush.

I must admit to a bit of relief. I liked Dr H the moment I met him (googled him) and I don’t want to turn into the girl who falls in love with her Plastic Surgeon. Putting Dr H on a pedestal would just make my life complicated. But luckily for me – I’m way more shallow.  All it takes is a good bedside manner, soft hands, and a clean set of scrubs for me to want to show off my ‘Forever Yummy’ toes. (Dutch accent is optional).

My next date with Dr H is in December. Think I'll go for 'Festive Red', no matter who sees me.

18 October 2013

Red Toes

Tomorrow I've got an appointment with my Plastic Surgeon, so I'm giving myself a pedicure.

Just a few months ago, preparation would have been a different story. Night sweats, nausea, long lists of questions, atavin, and deep calming breaths. After all, my life hung in the balance, and my health is a big concern to me. I'd usually bring someone to the hospital with me. A friend for emotional support, or Jim, for his shoulder.  But tomorrow I'm going alone. And it should be easy.   Just a simple follow up-appointment, and maybe a chat about my nipples with my handsome surgeon.

 I would be lying if I said that I didn't find Dr H attractive. Forgot the baby blue eyes and the soft Dutch accent. Ignore the fact the he plays hockey to raise money for charity, and only does surgery on burn victims and cancer patients and is capable of rebuilding breasts, heads, and necks. Not to mention his many degrees and super brilliant doctorate paper on tissue tension & oxygen. Or, the fact that he looks super hot in his scrubs. (Really hot, as if Ralph Lauren designed his scrubs and then airbrushed him so that he'd look totally relaxed albeit slightly tired). None of that really matter, because I paint my toenails for me. And tonight my colour of choice is Essie's 448 - Yummy Red.

For most of my appointments I am nearly naked. Sometimes I've had hair, and sometimes I've been bald. Other times I've been completely comatose. In my fantasy I was not drooling, but I think it's safe to say, that I not at most charming.  My toes were really the only thing that were always for certain. During the worst moments I had to sit alone in exam rooms for hours wearing my Amish blue cotton gown, and my pretty toes were something I could recognize when my surroundings seemed so foreign.   They were the last thing I saw when I lay down on the OR table, and the first thing I saw in the morning when I kicked off my hospital blanket. And they were the beacon that I followed when I took my first tentative post-op steps down the hospital corridor.

My red toes were not lost on my nurses. 'Nice colour!'  they'd say as they covered me with a blanket. 'Thank you!' I'd reply. More than the compliment itself I enjoyed the brief real-life moment, a reprieve from the sterility of hospital land. The tiny moment of shared girlishness that felt like home.  Surgeons never seemed to focus on my feet. But who knows - perhaps they glimpsed a flash of colour as I lay on the table. Or, perhaps they were too busy re-attaching arteries to notice.

But tomorrow I'll be bare-foot and topless in the exam room. Every single thing will be drab shades of celery, beige, and gray. Even Dr. H in his Ralph Lauren scrubs will almost blend in with the furniture. The brightest thing in the room will be my ten toes and I like to keep them well groomed. No matter what kind of crazy I've got going on up top - from the ankles down I can always hold it together.

So tonight I'm touching up my toes.  And I feel slightly joyous. This time I'm not doing it for security. A pedicure this evening is not part of a  'pre-battle' package that includes anxiety and bad dreams. It's just one simple fun task for a date with my handsome surgeon. But I'm truly not doing it for him. 

 A nice pair of lacey underpants has been set aside for tomorrow's meeting.  But the pedicure I do for me.

9 October 2013

Bedtime Ballet

Ready for Bed!
For ten weeks I had to sleep on my back. Then one night I figured out that if I placed all my pillows strategically around my body, and moved in one solid motion (like an old-fashioned Ken doll with his legs stuck out straight), I could sleep on my side.


Then my arm swelled up like a fleshy pork sausage due to lymphedema. I was told that one of the most effective things I could do to prevent the swelling was to sleep with my arm elevated.  So besides propping up my body,  I built another stack of pillows so I could rest my arm. This worked wonderfully as long as I stayed still all night. But – as luck would have it - the required elevation coincided with my new ability to roll over. And I like sleeping on my side, so as soon as I fell asleep, I’d roll atop the sausage. This didn’t fare well for the arm, and I would wake up with a giant muppet hand. 

So I tried weighing myself down with some heavy pillows and resting the arm on top of that. It’s wildly uncomfortable, but so is lymphedema. And that position is just way to tempting for our tiny cat, who finds the highest point in the house, and sits on it. And currently the highest point would be me.

So here’s what I do. Recently I’ve been able to stretch my arms over my head - something that I’ve always taken for granted, and an ability which makes it much easier to put on clothes. And now nighttime has become a bit of a dance. I have to build a downy fence around my body so that I don’t twist too quickly. (My 200 stitches are still healing, so I pay for quick movements). Above me are some more pillows where I plop my Muppet hand. So when I turn, I keep my arm & hand immobile and just move my body. Ta-da!

After executing a perfect rollover I wake for a brief moment of triumph.  Since I watch Dancing the Stars, I can’t help picturing myself performing a flawless and elegant  ‘inside turn’ complete with satin ball gown and wild applause. In reality it’s just 145 pounds of sweaty flesh clumsily rolling to the side, and dislodging one angry cat and a man.

But it works - so I’m giving myself a perfect score My dance may not be Swan Lake, but I'm not really a ballerina, and our pillows aren't even real down. 

7 October 2013

The Land of 'Should'

I’m starting to hate the word ‘should.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to suggestion, or maybe I’m giving off the help-me vibe, but lately I’ve been finding that people are very enthusiastic in telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. And I don’t like it.

I think it started in childhood. I remember my mother Violet responding to my complaints about being bored by snapping, ‘You should do volunteer work’. I should? Why? My teenage mind did not find that an appropriate reaction to making it through a rainy afternoon. I was thinking more along the lines of having some chips – or playing checkers.

Fast forward to last weekend and a loved one told me that I should become a real estate agent so I could work with my sister. ‘You should be a Realtor!’ they said. I should? Why? While I may be considering changing careers but I don’t think I can do any that involve math. (Shouldn’t they know that)?

In between were about a million other ‘should’. You should join a book club. You should go on a diet. You should go off your diet. You should eat more vegetables. You should watch out for unopened mussels. You should invest your money. You should use a condom. You should use hand sanitizer. You should make more of an effort. You should be back to normal by now.

These are the  ‘should’ you hear when the person dishing out assumes that you haven’t already thought of it. As in, ‘Hey, your head is bleeding –you should get a band-aid’. (Really? A band-aid, and not an onion?)

At some point I stopped taking ‘should’ as a suggestion, and heard it more as a reprimand of my behaviour. I don’t want to hear all the ‘shoulds’ when its stuff I already know. Of course I know I ‘should use a Kleenex’. And I know I should be more patient.  And I know that I ‘should’ be relieved and grateful that my treatment and surgery are largely behind me, and I ‘should’ make a plan for the future.

But sometimes you don’t want someone telling your what you should feel. Rather, you want a road map of how to get there. There’s a lot of intimated effort that goes along with the word ‘should’ and when you’re tired, it’s hard to catch up.  I need solutions, not suggestions. And definitely not an admonishment.

Don’t tell me I ‘should’ relax. I know I should relax. Tell me how to relax. I hear the word ‘should’ about a thousand times a day. Mostly well-meaning and often in my own head, but still - a lot of pressure. Sometimes you want people just to stop talking, and guide you to the magic land of ‘Should’ that they keep talking about. I know where I ‘should be’ I just don’t’ always know how to get there. Or even if I’d want to go.

It’s a benevolent  voice that might say, ‘Hey, you should gets some sleep’. But it’s an even better one that will take your hand and say, ‘I’m putting you to bed’.

29 September 2013

Back to Work in the Real World

Getting back to the working world is not easy. 

In my excitement of being ‘back to normal’ I forgot the real world and how fast it moves! Sure I can do everything I used to, but only as long as I do it at my own speed. I can walk the dog, do my lymphedema exercise, apply my creams, do a stomach massage, bathe, dress, and be out the door in about four hours.  This doesn’t necessarily make me the best man for any job, but right now it’s the best I can do. 

But that’s not even the problem. The bigger issue is that I’ve seem to have lost the chip in my brain that made me such a brilliant mutli-tasker. When I left my job four months ago, I could keep a dozen lists in my head, along with a mental Sharpie to cross things off. Now I walk into a room and completely forget why I’m there.

And I had conversations such as this:
Colleague – Okay, we need fabric for a curtain awning
Me – I like your shoes
Colleague – Thanks! This is a rush job, and we have to get it to the seamstress by noon.
Me – Did you know that Valerie Harper is on Dancing with the Stars?

So that was Week one, but things have picked up slightly from there. I’m slowly getting back into the real world.

I can now concentrate for slightly longer periods of time (though my mind frequently drifts off to thoughts of swimming, or nipples). And I speed through my morning exercises, taking more time to do them in the evening. I’ve also gotten used to wearing semi-professional clothing rather than my billowing wardrobe that got me through the summer. Still, there are many favorite shirts that I can’t wear, in fear that, if I reach up to get something, I’ll expose my stunning 17” scar. It’s never to far from my mind that beneath my clothing, I still look like a Raggedy Anne doll that had been bitten by a shark.
Last week for work I visited a fancy antique shop. The mission was to recreate a restaurant from 1902. The fellow in charge (Alex) was enjoying our task. We started talking about Downton Abbey and he swooned slightly and whispered, ‘Oh, yum. Antique porn!’

I laughed, and checked myself out in one of the antique mirrors on the counter. My shirt, I noticed, had come partially undone. Not only were my radiation tattoos visible, but also a good chunk of my pretty pink bra. (How am I supposed to monitor these things when my boobs are numb?) So I mumbled ‘Oooops’ and did up a couple of buttons.

Alex grinned slyly and said ‘Don’t worry honey, I’ve seen it all’. I raised my eyebrows, and he said, ‘I have four sisters – so I’ve seen everything.

All I could think was, ‘Well you ain’t never seen anything like these!’ Seriously! He has no idea.

So standing there amidst the fine china, I realized that just when I think I’ve eased myself back into the normal world, I still have another foot that is firmly planted in another nearly normal world. A world in which it feel like there is only me.

13 September 2013

Middle Aged Crazy

I can spot them a mile away. 

This time was at my local grocery store, and she was dressed in expensive yoga gear from head to toe.  Her mat was slung across her back, in it’s own Lululemon bag, and her hair was pulled up in a lop-sided bun. Regardless of her outfit I knew she was one of us; the middle-aged crazies are hard to hide.

When I first saw her I was standing in line. (Sadly, I had thirteen items, so I was standing in one of the slower lines). She came crashing through the front doors, picking up speed as she moved past the check out lines. She speed-walked through the produce section, past the frozen foods, and took a sharp turn down the cereal aisle.

For a moment I thought I’d lost her! I’d extended my neck as far as it could go and was spinning my head like an ostrich. I knew she wouldn’t be long.

Seven seconds later she remerged, frantic and glistening, her yoga mat swinging across her back like a sac of arrows. At the risk of mowing down a small Chinese man, she sprinted to the ‘Express’ lane. I was practically beside her now, and I recognized a kindred spirit - as I am intimately familiar with the glassy eyed mania of a peri-menopausal woman on an urgent quest. Beads of sweat were forming on her upper lip, neck veins were bulging, and in her hand was a single box of Frosted Cherry Pop-tarts. With sprinkles.

I’ve been in that situation before. Many times I’ve had to make a serious detour to satisfy a craving. Chocolate Brownies when I was a teenager, French fries when I was hung-over, and more recently, Hagen Daaz ice cream straight from the container. And the challenge is always the same – how fast after you have it in your hand can you get it to your mouth.

Yoga lady was thinking the same thing. Because of the way her leg was shaking I doubted that she’d even make it outside. I also doubted that she’d actually made it to a yoga class. I am familiar with that too. There been times where I’ve tried sitting still and enjoying the sounds of ‘Om shanti shanti shanti’, and the only thing I could think was, ‘Oh shut-up shut-up shutup'. And I’ve left.

Crazy yoga lady finally made it to the front of the line and flung a five-dollar bill at the cashier. As she raced toward the front of the store she started tugging at the top of the box. By the time she’d stepped through the doors, she had the interior pocket between her teeth, and was trying to rip it open. I paid for my groceries and ran out to the sidewalk.

She was about twenty feet ahead of me now walking leisurely down the road. She’s had her fix and was feeding herself slowly. I new from experience that she’d inhaled the first pop-tart, and maybe the second. Women know these kind of things for certain.

I also knew that from now on her day would just get better. She’d returned to her normal self and was now just another stylish yoga lady. Covered in sprinkles.

6 September 2013


I can’t feel my boobs.

It’s a new sensation, so I feel there should be a word for it. Like ‘Numboobs’ or ‘Noobums’ or something that makes me feel like I’ve just been kicked out of an African tribe for not being cool enough. 

The first time I really noticed was last weekend. Jim and I were in a dark movie theatre and popcorn kept slipping from my greasy fingers – and down my shirt.  Normally I dig it out and pop it back into my mouth, but I couldn’t feel it! There was none of that popcorn itch that I normally associate with ‘date night’.  I tried in vain to dig it out but I felt like I was poking around in someone else’s chest.

That night in bed I tried to summon some sensation. None. When standing I can feel that there is some weight on my chest. And it’s not unpleasant. There’s just enough jiggling to feel like they’re actually attached to me - which is probably similar to a transvestite who pops ‘Natural Touch’ silicones implants into his bra. Which, incidentally, look like chicken cutlets.

6 lb Cat.
So I lay in bed trying to feel my Numboobs.  Apparently our tiny cat had the same idea. I felt a soft thump as she dove off the dresser and onto my chest.  She looked me in the eye, daring me to do something But I didn’t, so she settled down and tucked her tiny head under my chin.

(To be fair, she only weighs about 6 lbs, and I can’t feel her at the best of times. But I hoped that this wouldn’t set a precedent for our 19 lb cat, or for the 55 lb basset hound.)

Today I went to the hospital to check in with plastic surgery clinic. There’s a tiny bit of guck escaping from the incision on my right breast, and I wanted have it checked out.  Mostly, I wanted to know if it was okay to go swimming. (Girls weekend ahead!) The nurse took a look at the area in question. She started poking around, but I felt nothing but soft pat, as though I was wearing a ski jacket. ‘Does this hurt?’, she asked.

‘No!’ I said, ‘They’re numb!’

‘Oh’, she seemed delighted, ‘Then I can squeeze as hard as I want!’

After examining me, she decided that it’s best if I don’t swim. There’s s still the remote chance that the teensy tiny opening inhales some lake water and becomes affected. Hmpf.

She left the room, and I did up my shirt. Then I went down the elevator, and onto another floor for some blood tests.  As I rolled up my sleeve, the nurse motioned for me to do up my blouse.  Ooops. A few buttons had come undone and I was pulling a full Fabio.

That day not only had a tiny cat enjoyed my numoobs and cleavage, but several lucky patients as well.

31 August 2013

Greatest Show on Earth

The Plane
The airplane that took us from Halifax to Charlottetown sat 18 people. And we were two of those people on the plane last weekend, as we flew to Prince Edward Island.

From the back row we could watch the open cockpit, clearly seeing the pilots hands as he manned the controls and adjusted his sunglasses. The day was gray and drizzly, and the size of the windshield wiper made us laugh. They looked like something you might buy ‘As Seen on TV’ for 12 dollars after a night of drinking. I crossed my fingers that they’d hold up during the half hour flight.

Within moments we were up in the air. As the little plane shook, sixteen passengers whipped out Ipads and Sodukos.  As we climbed higher the plane burst into blinding white sunlight, and levelled off over the puffy white clouds. It was glorious!

Bible Sky
I looked at the guy in front of me, who was lost in a game of solitaire. One the other side of the aisle, his wife was doing the crossword. Another man closed his eyes. A few ladies dug into their handbags, pulled out their paperbacks, and cracked them open.

‘What the f*ck is wrong with you?’ I wanted to scream. ‘This is the best show on earth!’ Truly, it was. Mere inches below us was a sea of white puffballs rolled by lit by giant beams of sunlight. If there was a way of actually feeling closer to heaven, I don’t know what is. I felt like I could actually wave at my father. (Not The Father - my actual dad)

Still nobody looked, but I was riveted. I’ve flown many times before but never felt this close to the universe, and never able to see out the front window. I waited for the moment we’d head through the clouds and see the gentle island below us. But for now, the sun and the sky were performing miracles for a small select audience of four; the pilot, co pilot, my co-pilot (Jim), and I.

Feeling the jolt of cement beneath the wheels, the readers put the bookmark back into their novels, and stood up to leave. As we hustled out into the sunlight and on the tarmac, a few people pulled out their smart phones and took picture of the plane.

Their electronics devices captured the aluminum flying machine, but they’d missed the best show on then planet.

28 August 2013

Weiners in a Glove

Lymphedema Compression GLove
Kissing it Better
The day after camping, (goodbye air mattress, hello bed!) I went straight to the Lymphedema Clinic at Princess Margaret Hospital.  I was anxious to find out what caused my hand to flare up like a 5-pack of wieners, and my arm like a pork sausage.

The nurse measured me, took notes, then said that I needed a higher degree compression of flesh sleeve and gauntlet. I told her I was flying in a few days, and that I was very concerned about the health of my arm, as I was starting to look like a butcher shop.

She assured me I needn’t worry. For now, I was to keep wearing the garments that I have. Also, I should do my exercises, avoid sun and heat and salt, and keep my arm elevated whenever possible. No problem!

Compression Glove
Fleshy Compression Glove
At home that night I started reading. There’s all sorts of information on the internet, as well as a bunch of chat forums. One lady wrote in to say that the gauntlet can actually hurt your hand because there's nothing to push the fluid out of your fingers, so it stays and swells. She highly recommended using a ‘glove’. By compressing fingers, the fluid would be squeezed up up up up up through my arm and back into my body where it belongs.

At the crack of 9 I was at the door of my favorite medical-garment boutique. They’d  sold me my original garments, and  were a pack of extremely knowledgeable ladies. Once again I’d turned away from the medical professionals and landed in the hands (not puffy) of people who actually know what they’re talking about.

‘Why would she recommend a gauntlet?’ said the saleslady. ‘Did the nurse SEE your hand?’ I said that she did. The saleslady tut-tutted and put my hand in hers,‘You need a glove, I will get you one.’ 

And she did, but not without a bit of effort. As there were none available in my size, she disappeared into the back room for twenty minutes where she tore through boxes. Finding none, she’d plucked one from an outgoing order, deciding I needed it more than the person on the other end.

Poorer by $140, I stepped out into the sunshine with my fleshy glove. And once again I was grateful for the wise and sympathetic ladies who work in the trenches; those hands-on gals who always manage make things better for gals like me.