Breast cancer, Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain

The Picture of Health

Featured Photo: Nathaniel T. Schultz Photography, Minneapolis.

 

Below is the picture I took the day after mammograms, ultrasounds and a biopsy. It is also the ‘before’ picture; before the official breast cancer pathology report and more than a year of treatments.

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It is my first ‘before’ picture. Before the official breast cancer pathology report came back, before having chemotherapy, before the bilateral mastectomy, before weeks of radiation, and before I would have a year of immunotherapy treatment. Before basically living at the clinic and knowing the names of so many people taking care of me the best they could. I knew that I would end up taking pictures along the cancer treatment road. I knew I was not going to ever be the same, physically or mentally.

Looking through my Facebook feed one day, I came across one of the photographers I had been “following”. His name is Nate Schultz. My daughter had previously modeled for him and I had been following his work since; beautiful, original artistic work. Nearing the end of my cancer treatment days, he posted a black and white photographic composition of his which I really found unique and particularly intriguing. It was an artistic nude photo of a subject that looked to be young and seemingly healthy, which is beautiful in and of itself. The photograph is burned in my mind. It got me thinking more about the human body and the appreciation for the bodies of different ages, not just the coveted beautiful bodies of childbearing-aged women. I tried to google pictures of older nude models and candid nudes of people from around the world, National Geographic type pictures. I ended up frustrated with how little my searches had turned up. Maybe I wasn’t searching enough?

Still, I continue to hold that one particular photo of Nate’s in my mind. Of course I “liked” the photo on his Facebook page. (If you would like to see it, it is on the Facebook page of Nathanial T. Schultz Photography, the February 9, 2018 post.) I made this comment on that post:

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By this time, I had over a year of cancer treatment under my belt, a year lacking exercise, a year of personal growth and reform. My body transformed. And I was challenging both myself and Nate to embrace the change. To my delight and surprise, he extended an invitation with open arms. We would meet. We would create.

For real! I felt humbled, respected and impressed for the chance to have a subject like me be an example for others to see, as well as a reflection for me to see. I was upfront that I am no model, and I couldn’t pay him, which Nate was fine with. He was presenting it as a gift. He wanted me to be myself. I found it to be so accepting, comforting, and flattering. It was cause to trust him as an artist and a friend. Life hands us losses and hands us new joyful gifts. Opportunity is handed to you to do with it what you decide. Nate decided to take his talent and love for photography and make an opportunity to live with passion and encourage others’ passions.

We scheduled to meet up on a March winter’s day, the day before spring was to start. I drove the mini van up to the studio through the overcast 30+ degree, typical winter day to Minneapolis with a migraine hangover on board,  and a dragging fatigue. Inside, though, the energy climbed. Excitement and pride rose in anticipation of the new meeting and the opportunity to share my truth through new art. . I entered the old and worn building that has been dedicated to creativity and ascended the stairwell.

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Coincidentally, it was the last day before my final breast cancer treatment. Nate and I met with a hug, then shared stories about cancer: his loss of many loved ones, my cancer-free pathology report and how the cancer has changed me and my loved ones.

Like I said, I am no model and I feel even less so since my body’s immune system was taxed, my muscle strength deconditioned, my energy level sunk, my chest became a surgeon’s project, I gained more than 25 pounds and my hair is growing in curly from the chemotherapy. It is an awkward duckling transformation from what I had gotten used to being.

It is spectacular how gracefully a human body can fight and how much others’ grace helps it to heal. How the human spirit lives!

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Nathaniel T. Schultz Photography

This picture is the new ‘before’: the kickoff to life after cancer.

Within one hour, Nate and I met face to face, shared vulnerable stories, made a snapshot of a story and, with a simple connection, he tricked an unexpected, spontaneous laugh out of me!

Life will expose you. It will make you laugh. Life, it’s chronic.

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Our see-you-later selfie.

Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain

You are One of Life’s Mountain Goats

It’s not just about the climbing. It’s also about standing up.

Life is like a mountain and you are like a mountain goat. There are times in which you need to climb up. There are times in which you need to climb down. There are times you must stand your ground. There are times you must simply stand still.

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First of all: mountain goats aren’t goats. They are related to goats, but more closely related to gazelles and antelopes. So, you may choose to consider yourself a mountain gazelle or mountain antelope if it suits you.

You must climb up. Soon after birth, young mountain goats must dash among the mountain terrain with their mother. Ironically, it is for safety that they must climb dangerously high on intimidating slopes in order to defend themselves from predators such as cougars and wolves. We must also skillfully work our way to the high road, taking courses of action that lead us to not only the most acceptable place, but the place that would least likely get ourselves or others in harm’s way. Look where you are going, and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

You must climb down. There are times when we must just first survive before we can thrive. In the winter, mountain goats will come down to lower ground to eat, being vulnerable to being preyed upon by the wolves. Oftentimes we need to take risks in order to develop and grow. Our challenges may make us stronger or they may make us weaker; but our challenges make us. Be mindful of the wolves in your life. Take responsibility for your own needs.

You must stand your ground. A mountain goat knows how to fight for their best life. During mating season, billies (males) will fight each other with their horns to get the right to mate with the female. Females fight females. These nannies know how to use their horns to protect their territory, their kids, and their food. It is not a stretch for me to relate to these measures. We all want to find someone to bond with. At the same time, we know how to claim our territories and resources. It’s when we get a little too obsessed in claiming these things that we compromise our relationships.

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There are times when you simply must stand still; keep your balance. Mountain goats are famous for this. They are built with the cloven hooves and toes that spread wide. Pads on the bottom of each toe are rough and make it possible for them to keep a good grip. We also need to keep a good grip on our lives. Focusing on one spot can help you balance on one foot. Focusing on the priorities and potential dangers in life can help balance your life. Mountain goats will rest under the shade of an overhang. Rest and enjoy your view.

We need to know when to move forward or take a step down.  We need to know when to stand our ground and when to stand still. Look up; look down; look out. Assess your situation. Keep your footing. Take a deep breath. Life, it’s chronic.

 

For more information on mountain goats, visit:

http://www.nationalforests.org

http://www.defenders.org

http://www.nationalgeographic.org

 

Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain

Writing a Post When You are Ill.

Writing is the same as pretty much everything else when you are knocked-out ill. It sucks.

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Write that post anyway. We can not always wait for when we feel well. When we feel well, writing a post is often not at the top of the to-do list. When we feel well, we can write posts, yes. When we are ill, though, we look forward to experiencing life so that we have something to write about! I am sick to my stomach from migraine upon migraine, but I can write and you’ll think, “Well, at least my post isn’t as bad as THAT one!”

“Knock, Knock.”    “Who’s there?”                                          

Does it matter.”     “Does it matter who?”                              

No, it doesn’t matter who is knocking, illness may not let you answer.”

Illness sometimes doesn’t let much through. This past month has been a constant ping-pong game with the migraines. Back and forth. During this match, I am still expecting myself to work out, make meals, wash dishes, vacuum, do the laundry, try to socialize with family. And write a blog. The migraine won. The migraine has a mean spin on that ball! Will readers understand why I write a blog even though it sucks? I don’t know. Will readers care if your blog sucks? Maybe for a minute. When you finally feel well enough to write your post, the way you want to, you may look back and be glad that you did your best when you wrote that lame post.

Do not apologize for when you are doing the best you can. Do not apologize for the content, the sloppy grammar, the disorganized babble. You will do better next time!

“Knock, Knock.”   “Come back later when I will tell you how to be a mountain goat!”

Some other day. Life, it’s chronic.

Chronic Illness

Temporarily Chronic: Breast Cancer

7A7094D3-0A29-40F7-8853-6D318B1BF7B2.jpegThis photo is from about six months ago. So, I haven’t blogged about my experience with breast cancer, because I hope for it to be a temporary problem, not a chronic one. But, as I say, life IS chronic.

It has been thirteen months since I started treatment. I have to humbly say that I have been the epitome of grace under this pressure. At least I think so. I think people were possibly more concerned about me being so jolly about the treatment than they were about the cancer, although no one has told me that. If I were my friends and family, I would think that either I was being a very good actress with a professional performance or else I was going out of my mind! I mean, who glows in excitement about how great the cancer treatment process is?

Who enters cancer treatment being all smiley and like “Yay!” Well, let us see… I do! I do because I couldn’t be more relieved than to have the chance to save my life and to have the consciousness to watch it all happen. I was walking around with breast cancer and I did not own it. I did not plan on keeping it, so why own it? It did not tie me down, much less knock me down. I mean, I could get out of bed every day and be ever more grateful for another day and hopeful for tomorrow. What a gift.

People are very kind to cancer patients. Duh, right?! Well, I have had my series of chronic health problems and problems like so many of us, but I seriously have never been treated better by so many people that I know and even more people that I don’t know. How comforting is that! It is everything that makes life worth living for. Kindness.

I will come back again and write more about this chronic part of my life.  “Live it!”, says Wendy!

Life, it’s chronic.