Eighteen Months

“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” –Rumi

It began with the purchase of new running shoes. My feet are far too sensitive to wear anything else, and the single pair I’d been using for the last year were breaking down. Yet the new pair soon began to feel uncomfortable for some reason.

Turns out the orthotics were the problem: my feet did not need them anymore. Whatever role they’d been playing in helping to realign my feet? That job was done, and  I was free to use the shoes without them.

It didn’t seem a big deal, at first, until I began to notice that my heels were actually less painful. The nails I’d been living with? Gone. The tingling that accompanied my every waking moment, from the tattered nerves misfiring all the time? Almost entirely absent.

I was startled and unwilling to trust this new state of affairs. The CIPN had proven itself to be a wily adversary, and with each step forward, I’d also experienced a slide backward at some point into flare up territory. Yet each morning, as I took stock of my body before arising, I noticed that the dominant pain was in my upper body, rather than my legs and feet. To be sure, the neural damage in my lower limbs was not completely absent – but it seemed placated, having settled into its lowest level of discomfort for years.

It was exactly as Mike had promised: if we focused on slow, gentle treatments, allowing my nervous system time to untangle and calm itself, I would begin to see progress. When we first began, after a week of yoga/massage/physiotherapy, and a yoga therapy treatment, the best I could hope for was 24 hours without intense pain signalling from my heels. Eventually 24 hours became 48 hours, and then we could string relief together for a few days in a row before symptoms flared. Finally, I was able to go a full week with my feet settled into a new baseline – provided I kept up with the treatment schedule, and kept my awareness on my body, living in harmony with its needs, my feet stabilized.

I was not healed nor cured – but holy shit, this was the best I’d been since cancer moved into my life.

My healthcare team had been working on my broken body for eighteen months. Eighteen months of yoga, and finally surrendering to the Soft Kitty Chair. Eighteen months of learning to breathe properly, to sit and move mindfully. Eighteen months of grieving, incrementally letting go of my old life and that identity. Eighteen months of peeling back the layers of damage, until we saw in clear view how fully my entire body was affected by the nerve damage. Eighteen months of building space inside my mind and heart to accommodate this grim reality -without being entirely shattered by seeing the “new normal.” Eighteen months, perched on that damned internal ledge, surveying the bleak landscape of my life.

The view was different now. Sunlight tinged the panorama in warmer hues, softening the jagged terrain of broken dreams and expectations. Hope began to creep in, sidling alongside the sorrow, shifting the balance ever so slightly. My brain was finally flexing neuroplasticity to my benefit. It had learned, over time, to amplify pain – until something else overrode that tendency and my brain decided to place less emphasis on pain messages from my feet.

It appeared that the yoga therapy had been the tipping point, the tool which re-patterned my nervous system, by gently reminding it to move in harmony with the correct muscles, and in sync with my breath. Ever so quietly, my brain was remembering, reorganizing, and toning down some of the sound bytes lobbed at it by my nervous system.

When I’d first arrived at the studio, Mike had said that I would improve, that my body could heal if we found baseline – and if I simply stood in the geometrical pattern of each pose, and breathed. When we’d begun yoga therapy, he’d told me the day would eventually come where my body would remember how to move without pain. I just needed to trust its desire to heal, to be patient and give it the tools it needed to awaken.

Here we were. I knew, looking back on the last year and a half, that I was not the same person as I was when I first arrived at Breathe into Motion Yoga Studios. The old me had arrived, unconscious to the extent of the damage in my body, and determined to override the pain, period. This different version of myself was battle weary, and scarred, knowing that the path forward was deeply challenging: but now pain was a wise companion, not an enemy to be vanquished. The old self was hanging around in the background, chirping its displeasure and wrapped in a cloak of grief. But for the first time, I had hope that someday I would be able to embrace the new person that was evolving inside. It was the only way to climb down off the ledge, and begin the journey of building a new life as a totally disabled cancer survivor.

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Photo by Andreas Fidler on Unsplash

5 thoughts on “Eighteen Months

  1. Hi Cindi I have been reading your blog from start to your last one. I too have Breast Cancer. My story is different from yours but the same as well. I have come to understand that each women with Breast Cancer goes through their own personal journey. May 2016 I had a mamagram that was suspious. I had another one and an ultra sound. I was told they found nothing wrong. I had no reason to not believe them. February 2017 my husband found a large lump in my left breast. So off we go for another mamagram and ultra sound. Sure enough I have a lump that is 3 cm large. The biopsy reviels the truth. I have lobular carsonoma that is very agressive. I told the surgen to take my breasts. Both of them. He did and 7 limpnodes. The cancer was deeper then they thought and there was cancer in 5 of the 7 limpnodes. My cancer is estrogen and her 2 possitive. So off to the Cancer clinic and chemo and radiation as well as Herceptin for a year. I was very blessed and didn’t get sick to my stomach but was exrtemly tired and lost my hair, my ability to eat and with the second set of chemo pain in my legs and feet. I am now done as of July 15th of this year. Now on meds to lower my estrogen. Doctors have not said that I am in remission. They only said that they did the best they could for me. They will do no testing unless I have other problems. They said just go and live your life.

    Now that it is all over I must learn to live with the new me. I thought that lossing my breast would be easy however it is not that easy. I feel the need to grieve over the loss of my feminity. I asked God how I was to do this. I don’t want to have surgery again to give me new ones. God told me to wear it like a badge of courage. So I mustered up all the courage I could and did that. Within the week a very special friend gave me a gift. She had made me knitted boobs. Now I can wear them when I get dressed up in a dress and look like a women again. So most of the time I go without them but I have options. My left shoulder does not work very well anymore. I am going to the doctor to see if there is any help for it. I also find myself feeling woosy and not able to walk straight at times. I am going to look into this and find out why.

    There is a voice in my head that tells me that I am going to get the cancer back in the next few years. That if there is anything I really want to do to do it. I am 65 years old and have three children that I had later in my life. So they are all in their 20’s. My youngest daughter has two children Isabella 6, Leon 3. My son and oldest daughter are not married. My husband and I have been married 43 years. My husband Dale had a stroke 10 years ago and we have just been coasting in life. Not able to really do any of the things we have wanted to do. He has been on disability so I can understand how you are feeling about that. So I want to see my precious Grandchildren grow up and see my children get married.

    I want to thank you for your blog. You are very articulate. Your story is very interesting and I am greatful for your courage to share it so openly. I met your husband at UB Youth camp in August. I will be reading faithfully.

    God Bless You and Pete. Jo Ann MacLeod

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  2. Hi Jo Anne! Wow it’s so great to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m so very very honoured that you’re reading the blog. I’m sorry you’ve been put on this same journey with breast cancer. It’s never easy and fraught with uncertainties and we’re asked to make impossible choices without ever being fully prepared for the outcomes. As you know only too well, this experience changes us on every level. You’re so correct that each woman has an individual pathway, treatment regimen, and challenges in recovery. It’s brave of you to share this with me here! My wish for you is that you find, alongside the struggles and losses, joy in the every day moments before you, time with your grandkids and children, and hope to sustain you. More than that, my hope is that you will discover the peace that passes all understanding and that it will guide you as you continue on the journey. Pete enjoyed the UB youth camp a great deal, btw, and sends his greetings.

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    1. Thank You Cindi for getting back to me so quickly. Your words are so kind with all that you are going through. The truth is that only someone who has gone through this journey can truley understand how difficult it really is. I plan to contiue to follow you on your blog. Your strength gives others strength. Isn’t it wonderful how God uses everything we go through for his Glory. I feel greatful to be used by God this way. I will also add you to my prayers for more recovery and less pain as you contiue to do all you are able. God Bless You and Pete for your great love for others and your desire to encourage. You are doing a fantastic job!!!!

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  3. I recently found out I have colon cancer again after nine years. I will be having surgery next week so I think the timing is interesting for me to read this article. I appreciate it & it makes me realize that I am not alone, there are a lot of people dealing with cancer. I will be reading more of your blog. Thanks

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    1. Hi Darlene. I’m so very sorry you’re facing cancer again. That seems so unfair to have survived it once, only to see it return. As you face treatment and all its challenges, I sincerely hope you do so, knowing you are not alone in this. There are indeed many who face this damned disease, and if it helps, please know this little blogging community is meant to support and encourage you. I’m grateful you shared your story, and hope you find the strength and resilience you need during treatment. We are behind you. Take good care of yourself

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