Exactly four weeks ago was easily the hardest day of my life. But it also marked the beginning of the rest of my life. Four weeks ago was cancers last stand. Four weeks ago I lost a lot but gained so much more in return. (The clichés just roll off the tongue lately)
So when we last left off in our story I had just turned 35. As a side note, my health insurance will now pay for my mammogram. The irony is, I will never have another one in my entire life. (Nothing against my health insurance as they have been amazing! Some insurance companies won’t cover mammograms till age 45 or even 50! Yikes!) The day after my birthday I was back in the hospital. I had been experiencing severe cramping in my leg and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot. After many hours of waiting (I am ALWAYS waiting!!!!) and a doctor who was a dead ringer for George Carlin we were no closer to figuring out what was actually going on. You see, the individuals responsible for performing the doppler ultrasound (test for blood clots) went home two hours earlier. So they gave me a shot of blood thinner and sent me on my merry way. Back for the test the next day…and no blood clot. Yay for that info, boo for new pains that I now had post surgery that I did not have before.
That weekend marked my first attempt in venturing back out into the real world. My best friend was in town from LA and my man was in town from San Francisco. Mom finally got a break as I was staying in NYC that week. On any given day I walk through Times Square and my emotions are as follows: annoyed (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Elmo) frustrated (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Spiderman) and impatient (at tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture with Mickey) When did we become Hollywood Blvd? Please go back west. Anyway…try walking through Times Square less than 2 weeks after major surgery. I had one emotion and that was scared out of my mind. No Roxy Red Tights in your half inch Capezio character shoe…please take your terrible Fosse moves and step aside so I can walk down the street! I still have full mobility from the waist down and I was ready to practice a slightly higher than waist strut kick if need be. When your well being literally depends on you walking down the street without bumping into anyone or anything, you immediately become hyper aware of your surroundings. It is truly amazing how many people in this city walk down the street, head buried in a cell phone. Of course it was absolutely freezing in NYC these few days. I could dress myself but that darn jacket proved difficult. And I HATED asking for help. But help was much needed. Being I was only two weeks out from surgery, the list of things I couldn’t yet do was pretty extensive and included the following: put on a jacket, wash my hair, dry my hair, do anything with my hair except put a hat on, open/close doors, push anything, pull anything, lift anything over 5 pounds, sleep in any position except on my back…so basically I could kinda dress myself and feed myself.
The mental struggle was real folks. I couldn’t really hug anyone. Laughing hurt, crying hurt. Actually doing anything hurt. The tears returned. Looking at myself in the mirror sent me into a tailspin. (I still required bandages) At this point I was unsure which was more difficult, the emotional healing or the physical. I just wanted to dance. Rehearsals for the summer show were in full swing and it was impossible to ignore it on social media. I so badly wanted to be able speed up the healing process but I knew I had to be patient.
At the three week mark I was given the ok to jump (well carefully climb) on a stationary bike. Off I went. I was so excited to do ANYTHING physical. I didn’t even care that it didn’t feel like a workout. Just the fact that I was moving any part of my body made me so happy! 30ish minutes of riding and a few stretches of my upper body and that’s what I was allowed. So that’s what I did. My body was SOOOOO thrilled to have the blood flowing again. Before surgery I was spinning 3 times a week, taking dance class and lifting weights. I literally went from 100 to 0.
So here I am at the four week mark. I enjoyed another bike ride this morning and my stretches. Each day my range of motion improves. I recently realized I could once again hang my towel on the hook on the back of the bathroom door. That was exciting. I can wash and carefully dry my own hair. I am no longer bandaged and am no longer bruised. The tears have been minimal as I am beginning to finally feel more like myself. There were definitely some dark days when I felt I would never be able to gain enough range of motion to dance again. Although I am many weeks away from dancing full out, I now believe that I will get there…with full range of motion! Did I mention I also hit the 212 trifecta this week? Phone call from a doctor, Duane Reade and a casting director. Boom.
This Friday will be my first “fill” with the plastic surgeon. As mentioned in my last blog, I have tissue expanders in place at the moment. They are basically flat implants that get filled over time to slowly stretch my pec muscle and the skin. My plastic surgeon was able to fill them a little in surgery so I did not wake up completely flat. Forgetting the fact that they are hard as rocks and completely uncomfortable I have actually enjoyed being on the smaller side the past few weeks. So for all of you who have been asking if I have decided to go bigger once I am done with my reconstruction the answer is absolutely NO! Ha. Never was a boob girl before all of this started and have not become one after. I will just be happy to return to the size I was on April 19th at 7:29 am!
So what have I learned in the past four weeks? Well how much time do you have? (Kidding…kinda). I have learned I am one very very very lucky girl. And I do not forget that. Yes I was proactive about having my mammography done when my gyno found the lump, but the lump wasn’t cancerous. The calcium deposits that only showed up on my mammography were. If my gyno told me to only have an ultrasound the cancer would still be alive and kicking in my body. The timing of my test has spared me from fertility treatments and chemotherapy. Yes my reconstruction was a “plan b” per se but a small hurdle in comparison to what could have been. I am learning not to sweat the small stuff. Most of my life I have been a worrier. I let everything get to me. EVERYTHING. When the word cancer becomes part of your vocabulary, anything else pales in comparison. Everything is quickly put into perspective.
This weekend Hoda Kotb of the Today Show gave the commencement speech at Tulane University. For those of you that don’t know, Hoda is a breast cancer survivor. Hoda and I also share the same breast surgeon and plastic surgeon! Great minds think alike! (She is definitely my spirit animal!) Anyway, she shared some advice to the graduating class. In her speech she states “Don’t hog your journey, its not just for you.” When I wrote my first blog entry, it took me one hour of staring at it before I could work up the courage to hit post. I didn’t know if I should be sharing my story. I was unsure if this was something I should be putting out there for friends, family and strangers to get a glimpse of. But in my mind I knew that if I helped one person…just one… I knew it was worth it. And it was worth it. The response was overwhelming. I had emails from strangers telling me that they called their doctor and made an appointment for a mammography. Success! I heard from individuals fighting other cancer battles that they connected with my emotional journey although their battle was a different beast. I have raised a great deal of money to help young dancers fight their own fights! I thank all of you for allowing me to share my story with you.
When I was in Bali, I had the chance to get up close and personal with elephants. These creatures are amazing! I connected with them immediately! I went on a frantic search to find the perfect little elephant statue to take home to the states. I never found it. Fast forward to my birthday 2 weeks ago. Mom and I went to this little jewelry store in town that was having a sale. There it was, staring at me in the case. The most perfect little silver elephant necklace . I had to have it. My mom asked about the new elephant obsession. In Bali you see elephant statues everywhere. They are an extremely important part of the Hindu religion. They are known as Ganesha; lord or success and remover of obstacles. (I mean how much more appropriate can we get). We purchased the necklace and it has been around my neck ever since. A few days later we were sitting watching the news and they were doing a story on the elephants being retired from the circus. The elephants now live in Florida on a 200 acre facility dedicated towards the conservation and research of these animals. Research…because elephants rarely get cancer! Amazing. Who knew?!?! The things you learn everyday!
13 days till I attempt my first dance class. Stay Tuned!