Blackblogged

OK I totally deserve to be black blogged.   I left the blog just hanging, un-resolved, and believe me for the past several months I’ve felt awful about it!   Particular apologies to all those finding this after searching for answers, for hope, only to be left wondering what in the world happened?  Did she have that baby or what????

I’m happy to tell you that this story has a pretty happy ending.   After honestly having the fastest pregnancy on record, I delivered a perfectly healthy boy at home on a Monday morning in early December (the kids were totally psyched to miss school).  The birth really couldn’t have gone smoother, we were all home together, between breakfast and lunch and then had all day to snuggle in bed and marvel at our newest member.   And despite all my fears, he (so far) is a happy, content, well-sleeping little guy!

Although he wasn’t able to breastfeed (just couldn’t figure it out), the weight started flying off of me and I found that my pre-pregnancy Synthroid dose was too high.  So I lowered it a couple weeks after the birth and felt great.

Sadly in March I had to return to work, and also finally get my Whole Body Scan, which had been put off for the pregnancy.   This meant another 2 week round of the low-iodine diet (and if you’ve read my previous posts, you know how much I love to diet!).  The timing could have been better…..it was my first month back at work with three kids at three different schools, my husband was out of town for work at least half of the time, leaving me to prepare 6 different meals a day (3 normal meals for the kids and 3 low-iodine meals for myself) as well as take care of a 3 month old.   What isn’t fun?   Serving up heaping piles of ooey gooey mac-n-cheese with ham and cheesy broccoli or watching your family eat a pizza and then sitting down to your plate of plain avocado smeared on salt-free tortilla chips and carrot sticks (which is the same thing you’ve eaten for dinner for the past 3 days).  Also, during my last go-round of the LID, I was home from work, so I had plenty of time to prepare complicated lunches from scratch….not so easy to be packing completely from scratch meals to take to the office (not to mention we must have had at least two office lunches during this time…wow, that pizza and burritos look good, but I’ll just have jam on dry homemade white bread and a handful of unsalted almonds, thank you!).   Needless to say I was CRANKY.  Being hungry makes me cranky….being hungry and watching other people eat what I can’t while juggling the stress of returning to work and being a single parent to three kids?   Maybe “cranky” isn’t the right word.

Oh but back to the Scan….this time I did the Thyrogen injections (which warning, even with insurance cost me over $1,000 each – ouch!).    The scan was a 4-day process (again, not ideal when just returning to work).   Also note that these four days are in ADDITION TO the 2 weeks of LID – so I was on the LID for 18 days….but who’s counting?

The first day I went to the hospital lab for blood work and then had to wait around for over an hour for the lab results before my endocrinologist would administer the first Thyrogen injection (which is in the hip).    The next day I went back to the endo’s office for the second Thyrogen injection in the other hip.  The third day was to nuclear medicine at the hospital to receive the tracer dose of radioactive iodine (handful of pills) and finally on the fourth day was the actual scan.   It’s pretty boring lying completely still for 45 minutes in a machine – at least I could vaguely hear the TV the technician was watching.  If you can coerce someone to go with you, I recommend it, if only for some kind of distraction.  Immediately after the scan the technician said it “looked good” as in she didn’t see any “activity”.   I was happy of course, but at that point I was less concerned with the results and more concerned with where I could get a mass quantity of food quickly.

I think I literally ran from the hospital for my car, and then in a panic, called my husband to ask his opinion of my best food options en route back to the office (since I didn’t want to screw this up and end up with something lame like a veggie sub!) .   I decided to make a run for this awesome specialty grocery/food place near our house….”grown-up mac and cheese” with bacon, a buttercream vanilla cupcake, and Irish Cream crème brulee…..yes please!   I then drove back to my office as if I were in a high speed chase (just daring an officer to pull me over)….I didn’t care that I was salivating like a starving animal…nothing was coming between me and my victory lunch!  I literally inhaled everything in under 5 minutes at my desk and it was so, so good!   But then about 10 minutes later it hit me…..at first I just felt kind of “off” but forced myself to ignore it…..then heard  gurgling from my mid-section….then the beads of sweat on my forehead, and then I was running from my office for the bathroom.   All I could think was THIS IS SO UNFAIR!!!!!    I finally get to eat whatever I want and it makes me sick!  Life is so cruel sometimes!!!   So my advice to you is, no matter how tempting it may seem, if you’ve been strictly following the LID, try weaning yourself back onto real food again….or at least maybe skip the dairy the first day.

It wasn’t until 5 days after my scan that I received my actual results in the mail – a handwritten note from my endo saying “Nuclear scan and labs show NO thyroid cancer – looks great!”    Of course I was ecstatic and relieved…..mostly to not have to go through the treatment and LID again, or at least not for a loooonnnggg time (how about never?).   Relieved that I could start moving forward with my “new normal” of taking a daily pill, monitoring my thyroid levels, and drenching everything in sauce b/c I don’t produce enough saliva to swallow anything dry.   But I could also move forward knowing that I had weathered another storm and come out on the other side.    That life does really go on….or at least for us lucky ones.

And if you’ll now excuse me I have a pot to stir, a phone to answer, a crying baby to pick up, a 5-year old butt to wipe, and a 7-year old off on his bike to go find.

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Flash Pregnancy

Image

 

Ok so maybe this isn’t my belly, but sometimes it feels like this (and seeing this picture does make me feel better).  Seriously, how can I possibly be 6 months pregnant?  Now that this is apparently likely to happen, it seems like the shortest pregnancy of all time.   Certainly we are in no way prepared to welcome a newborn into our family.   I’m still trying to juggle my thyroid meds, uncooperative salivary glands, relentless acid reflux, crazy work schedule, end of summer childcare, and normal household circus.   Most days I feel like I’m moving methodically through an endless parade of consecutive tasks  – arrive home – mail  – start dinner – unpack kids’ lunches – unload dishwasher – serve dinner – clean up dinner – bathe kids, brush kids’ teeth, oversee guitar practice, stories – fold laundry….with always the end goal to get myself into bed to catch some sleep before the dog or a kid inevitably gets me up again before my 5:20am alarm for work.

 The thought of adding an infant into the mix is frightening (assuming it’s going to want to be held, fed, changed, and/or bathed).   My irrational pregnancy brain keeps thinking that we just need a bunch of strategically placed bouncy seats to stash the “potato” while I parent my older “functioning” kids.  But as this point even the minimal amount of time/effort it’s going to take to obtain bouncy seats (as we generously donated all things baby long ago), seems like a burden.  At least I don’t have to plan a nursery (no room for one)!

 Yet still my poor nesting brain is frantic: must get baby gear, must find time/money for a larger car (to accommodate infant car seat – must get infant car seat), must complete big work assignments and figure out maternity leave, must decide on day care vs. nanny (and if nanny, find nanny), and probably should wax my legs and  figure out what we’re having for dinner this week, and why is my six year old still in his PJs at 4:00pm?   But that’s the magic (or mischief) of kids, they force you to make more time – to squeeze it from somewhere (usually your nights).  

 But something tells me that it will all be worth it.  Whenever I feel this little bugger squirm, I’m reminded that he/she chose this time, chose us.  And often resistance is futile.

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Anniversaries –

Anniversaries are always a bummer.    It doesn’t matter what you’re remembering, celebrating, or lamenting because it really just means you’re a year older.    And getting older sucks.   It sucks especially when you start to feel it; you know, really feel it.  It’s the day when you realize that hanging upside down on the monkey bars is not only unenjoyably, it’s a bit torturous.

 

I recently celebrated a rough anniversary.    A year ago July 5th, I went from being a normal, totally healthy 30-something to a “sick person”.   It would have been nice to have been able to look back on the past year and think “wow, that was rough, I’m glad that’s over!” or “look how far I’ve come!” or something somewhat uplifting or inspirational.  But instead I found myself mourning the loss of my fit, healthy, dependable body, which has been replaced by one that is chronically compromised.   That isn’t to say I don’t have “good days”.   We’ve all heard the Cancer cliché of “good days and bad days” because it’s true.   But it’s more like having periods of “somewhat normal” mixed in with periods of  “OMG this totally sucks.”   You never get “over” it, you just get a little more used to it.

 

The anniversary was at least buffered by being on vacation with my family.    But it didn’t go unnoticed, and at the time was just too hard to write about.     Which is why I don’t want to dwell on it now (hey, look over here at my burgeoning belly!).

 

So what’s been going on – aside from the self-indulgent anniversary party?   Lots!   Well, lots of Doctor’s visits….lots…and lots…and lots.   The real benefit of having to constantly leave work to sit in waiting rooms, is falling behind and then having to work nights/week-ends (when you already work a full time job and take care of two kids)!   It’s especially fun when your four-year old bursts into tears as you head to the office on yet another Sunday morning to return at dinner.   Good times I tell you!

 

So why so many visits?   Seems I just can’t help myself.   Actually, it’s been mostly the OB/GYN – Endocrinologist paring, with the occasional side of primary with all the regularly scheduled stuff like my upcoming bi-annual dentist visit.   After passing the first trimester screen, our “mid-pregnancy” ultra sound detected a “bright spot” (assumed to be a calcium deposit) in the baby’s heart.   We then did some follow-up testing and it turns out baby boy or girl (we’re not finding out) is just fine and the “spot” is no big deal (doesn’t affect the function of the heart at all).  We also learned that the placental tear (sub chorionic hemorrhage) had apparently totally healed up!  Which just goes to show, “when in doubt, work-out” (copyright pending).  Undoubtedly had I “rested” for that entire time my ass would be even wider than it is now (shudder).   

 

Meanwhile aside from the baby drama,  I’ve been nagged by residual surgical/radiation “side-effects”.   The worst is salivary gland damage from the radiation, which causes (now both) salivary glands to swell and become extremely painful.  They also stop producing normal amounts of saliva, and then occasionally squirt a very thick, VERY salty shot into my mouth (yum!).   They’ve taken on a life of their own – sometimes they seem to be working and then without warning I’ll try to eat bread or a cracker and I can’t swallow it.  It’s like trying to eat a pack of Saltines with a really bad hang-over (if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do so you can cross it off your bucket list).  So to try to counter-act the problem (since according to my surgeon all treatments are off while I’m pregnant), I drink tons of water….or order soup.

 

The other fun coincidence is that the scar gel I was using on my face caused dermatitis (which is basically just “irritated skin”).  Again, I could get rid of it with prescription medication….if I wasn’t pregnant.   Well, at least you know why I’m walking around with what appears to be a nasty rash under my nose.   It’s not by choice, let me assure you.

 

And probably my favorite thyroid-cancer + pregnancy side effect is coughing.   Seems that a restricted airway, plus increased mucus (due to a combination of “pregnancy rhinitis” and “young kid cooties”) plus acid reflux makes for the perfect cough storm!  I’m a pretty good cougher…I can cough, and cough, and cough.    I’m sure my coworkers love it (especially since I usually keep my office door open).   It’s also a big hit at the gym – I can cough through abs, chest press, pretty much anything that requires being less-than-vertical.   It seems to be particularly active in the evenings, perfect when you want to watch a movie (just ask my husband). 

 

So dry mouth, rash, and coughing pretty much sums me up.  That and having to adjust my thyroid medication every four weeks (yeah – why didn’t anyone warn me what a pain in the ass that is?).   It’s not just a dose change, it’s a “dose schedule” change.  I used to take the yellow pill every day except Mon. and Thurs, when I took the blue pill.  Now I take the blue pill every day except Mon. and Thurs. when I take the yellow pill.  I hope that’s OK because I was skeptical that my pregnancy over-stressed-at-work brain could handle a more complicated switch.  Plus, since my thyroid pills require fasting, I take my pre-natal vitamins in the evening….which is easy to remember when I’m not trying to get dinner on the table for two very opinionated and occasionally irrational kids.   Wait, did I take my vitamins or was I GOING to take them before I let the dog out and picked up the plate of food that just fell on the floor?   Needless to say I think both the hubby and myself were quite relieved to see that the baby had two arms and two legs.  Whew!

 

So now that we have hit the 5 months or “half way mark” and baby seems to be doing just fine I’m excited to consider this a “normal pregnancy” (well, aside from the aforementioned grievances).   Starting this week I will be no longer seeing my OB and will be returning to the midwife who delivered our first child, peacefully at home between lunch and dinner (seriously, can you beat that?).  [For our second birth she was unfortunately on maternity leave and I delivered unexpectedly in the tub in the middle of the night, thereby creating a no-sleep baby monster.]     I also (think/hope) have found a new primary care physician to help coordinate all my appointments/labs/treatments  – which if it works out, will be a big relief.

 

Lastly, although I haven’t been posting frequently, I do think of you all every day and think of updating you daily.   The well wishes, donations (THANK YOU!), and good thoughts have all been graciously appreciated.  I’m continually touched by the generosity of those around us most recently by the fabulous women and instructors at my gym who, when I’m running late from the office, set-up my equipment for me right in front of the fan.   Maybe they’re afraid I’m going to collapse mid-set, but I’m not ashamed to be sucking the cool air.   In looking back over the past year (as totally crappy as it was), I am amazed by how many friendships have been reaffirmed, strengthened, and discovered.  And for that, it’s been a good year.

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Over 35, Fighting Cancer, and Pregnant! (coming soon to the Oxygen Network)

So you may be thinking, how did this happen (if you’re not, let me remind you that we’re two full-time working parents on staggered work/home schedules with two kids, one of which is still an iffy sleeper). Well, it was St. Patrick’s Day and we invited a friend and her boys over…enjoyed some green mac-n-cheese and some ham…a couple beers…and somehow between being half-asleep and morning, a baby was in the works!

We decided to tell the kids right away, so they wouldn’t fear I was sick again from Cancer.  This led our four year old to ask at dinner one night, “Daddy, when did you mate with Mommy?”  [after chuckling at mating….] “St. Patrick’s Day”.  But then the next night the question was asked again by our five year old….”But when did Daddy give you his sperm?”   “St. Patrick’s Day”.  “But WHEN on St. Patrick’s Day?  Was it after we went to bed?”….yep that’s pretty much how it happens kids!

So as freaked-out as I was to learn that it only takes one time even if you’re not 16, this baby seemed to want to stay put.    Though not an ideal situation (having been “done” with kids, having given away all our maternity/infant things, having no spare rooms, a car with no room for another car seat….oh and having cancer and still being radioactive) so far things have looked pretty positive (aside from a few bumps…and I don’t just mean my impressive display of pregnancy acne).

With the goal of not freaking everyone else out, I’ll try to hit on the major issues.   First, I was advised to not get pregnant for at least one year from my radiation (Dec. 13, 2011).  This was for several reasons: (a) there’s still some residual radioactive iodine in my body for up to a year, (b) it takes time to regulate thyroid hormone levels and the more time you regulate the better able you know how your body responds to dose changes,  (c) you can complete a follow-up scan at 6 months and 1 year to see if the cancer cells have been killed or are remaining, and (d) pregnancy can stimulate cancer cells (all cells) to divide/multiply/grow.  Oopsy!  I got pregnant on or close to March 17, 2012…that would…carry the one…..minus 9 months…. OK only 3 months….even I can’t spin that math.

So here’s where I make you feel OK about the above paragraph.   Take the radiation (a).  I consulted with a physicist who advises the hospital nuclear medicine departments and he was able to calculate my effective radiation level for mid-April (got pregnant in mid-March, but close enough for…physics?).   My level mid-April was “less than 0.005 mCi”.  This is small – of course small for people around me, not as small for a developing person in close proximity 24/7.  But the small number of studies which have looked at women who conceived within 6 months of an RAI treatment dose showed no significant difference to average women in terms of problems related to pregnancy, labor, or the baby.   And frankly, there’s nothing I can do about it.   As we say in the environmental science world, we can only “mitigate for un-avoidable impacts”.   In this case the radiation exposure is unavoidable and I plan to mitigate it by *trying* to limit the number of ultra-sounds and having the baby’s thyroid function checked close to birth (could also request an ultra-sound of the baby’s thyroid if we suspect a concern).

Regarding (b), regulating thyroid hormone, this has been an issue, but I think we’re heading back on course.   A “thyroid-abled” woman automatically increases thyroid hormone production when pregnant to allow the baby to metabolize.  Since I totally freaked out and suspected I was pregnant about 8 hours after conception, I was able to notify my endocrinologist very early on and she increased my daily Synthroid dose.  Turns out she over-shot how much I needed and I became hyperthyroid (too much thyroid hormone and not enough pituitary hormone).   Being hyperthyroid was almost as much fun as being hypothryroid….almost.  I was basically crazy manic, couldn’t sleep soundly, couldn’t concentrate on anything, jittery, then anxious, angry, and finally it culminated with uncontrollable sobbing fests.  It was like I had eaten the fish for dinner (and if you don’t get that reference you must immediately add Airplane! to your Netflix queue).   So my endo prescribed me a lower Synthroid dose, but suspicious of her dosage decrease, I did a little novice pharmaceutical work and decided to combine my dosages (125mg 5 days/week and 137mg 2 days/week) and my latest lab work looked perfect (and I’ve finally stopped crying – though it did keep people out of my office for a few days).

And for (c), doing scans, and (d) stimulating cancer cells….we’re just going to ignore those (done!).   Since again, nothing can be done about it and delaying the scans doesn’t change the result (plus it definitely is worth it to go through labor pain med-free than to go through being hypothyroid again…uh-uh…nooooo wwwaaayyy….I will pull a Duggar if I have to… “time for my scan?  Wouldn’t you know it, pregnant again…yep this makes 19!”

So that takes care of that.  Otherwise, been feeling OK and baby is looking great (like a little big-headed Alien with really skinny limbs).   Around 10 weeks I had a placental tear that is still there and a bit larger (graduated from “tiny” to “moderate”).   This side-lined me from the gym for over 2 weeks, which basically had the same exact effect as if I had undergone surgery to implant size DD breast implants onto my hips.   I’ve honestly never in my life have had “love handles”  and I’m not really feeling the “love”.    BUT I was cleared by the periontologist today to resume “non-vigorous work-outs” ….and had I not spent 3+ hours of my work day driving to and waiting to see the doctor for 15 min, I would have enthusiastically headed for the gym.

I promise to keep you all posted now that I’m out of the pregnancy closet (whew, it was tight in there, especially with my handles and widening ass!).    And remember…it only takes ONE time……

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More Bumps in the Road

It’s hard not to feel like a whiner when writing a medically-related blog.  I would love to gleefully announce I’m “all better”!   But since this bumpy journey continues, and I promised to keep you updated, here you go on the latest.

I recently had my 6-month follow-up with Dr. Facts, my nasal surgeon.  I had been mentioning that my right side/valve still felt restricted ever since the surgery, but he kept saying it was “residual swelling” and “still healing”.   But when I mentioned it again at my most recent appointment, he confessed that the surgery apparently wasn’t totally successful and I still have some collapse of the valve.  Though it’s better than pre-surgery, I am obviously disappointed.   I was really looking forward to breathing normally again (selfish I know!).  Basically it feels like the right side of my nose is too narrow/small and not enough air gets through when I breathe in.  It also is continually stuffy on that side, especially at night, which leads to an annoying pressure/fullness in my face.  I basically wake up on most mornings feeling like I have a bad sinus infection on the right side, sometimes accompanied by a mild to piercing headache on that side.

So my nose isn’t working all that great and at the moment not looking all that great as well.   The scar gel I’ve been applying to 7 of mine 9 incisions sites caused a persistent flare-up of dermatitis under my nose (I had an incision right across the base of the tip I was putting the scar gel on).  I’m hoping that some topical steroids will finally wipe that out, but in the meantime have the allure of an allergy sufferer who has been picking her nose and failing to wipe the crusties (gorgeous!).

And then I became hyperthyroid (which is the opposite of “hypothyroid”).  In early March my endocrinologist increased my dose of Synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone).  Since hormone effects appear gradually, at first I thought I was feeling pretty good.  My energy seemed to be picking up.  But then I started to notice strange symptoms, like I felt hot for the first time in years.   I’m the person who is always cold; keeps a coat rack of sweaters in her office and sleeps under a mound of blankets.   Especially at the gym, I was really sweating (and I rarely ever sweat, even when working out).  I also couldn’t focus at work.  At first I thought maybe I was stressed, though I didn’t *feel* stressed.   My mind was racing in 1,000 directions and I couldn’t focus on a single task for more than a few seconds.  And then I started having trouble sleeping.  I couldn’t reach a deep sleep and felt like I spent the entire night half-awake telling myself to “GO TO SLEEP!”  But all these symptoms were also somewhat vague and not knowing what to look for, I couldn’t blame them entirely on my medication.

And then I hit “bottom”.   If being hypothyroid feels like living under water, being hyperthyroid feels like being on speed (not that I would know personally…though I can attest it’s similar to being overdose with Prednisone).   I think the feeling can best be captured by recalling the scene in Something About Mary where the elderly neighbor is frantically vacuuming her apartment.       That was me.  For a while.   And then I found myself getting really angry, again for no discernible reason, and ended up spending a couple days crying uncontrollably at my desk at work, again for no reason I could think of.    A friend of mine referred to being hyperthyroid as “having rage”.  It was not fun.

After several calls to my endocrinologist who seemed skeptical at first (even with a TSH of 0.08 – which is nearly off-the-charts low), I was prescribed a lower Synthroid dose and started to feel better almost immediately.   Of course it’s all a dosing game – that I can never really win.   My levels start heading in one direction and then the other….and the “target” is always changing as my lifestyle and age is always changing.   Welcome to the “new normal”!

And just when I thought I was getting the hormones under control, I woke up 3 days later to an extremely painful, inflamed paratoid gland (salivary gland).   Apparently the radiation damaged my salivary glands as it passed through, which caused scar tissue to develop in the valves, narrowing them.   This makes them prone to “clogs”, stones, and infection.   I seem to be lucky yet again in experiencing this potential side effect, which can manifest any time during the first year after RAI (in my case my glands inflamed the day after I ingested the RAI and now again 5 months afterwards).    So I headed back to Dr. McPreppy’s office [he operates on salivary glands] and he confirmed the damage and assured me that “most” people experience this for “awhile” but it eventually goes away.   In the meantime, the course of treatment is to massage the gland, apply warm moist compresses, take pain killers, and antibiotics if infected.  There are also prescriptions which can help thin the saliva or decrease the inflammation and surgery can help some cases.    I personally have found that screaming profanity, grunting, and gripping the nearest hard surface also helps, basically implementing your preferred labor coping techniques.

Disappointment = waking up starving, being forced to fast for over an hour, sitting down to your delicious weekend waffles, and being shot with a heart-stopping pain as you attempt to take the first bite.    No waffles for you…ha ha ha (says fate)!

So at this point I’m looking for where the pavement starts….when again does this become “smooth sailing”?   When’s the next exit?    Are we there yet?    This trip was so 2011 and I’m ready for a new path.

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6-Month Follow-up

Hi!   Now that it’s been 6 months since my surgeries, it’s time for a  follow-up.  First, I apologize for the rather long hiatus (so sorry!).   I guess I haven’t had much to report… that and I’ve been trying to find a way to post updates without forcing you all to attend a pity party (miniature violins not included).  But things have been getting back to “new normal” – which admittedly isn’t as awesome as the “old normal” was.

Back in Feb. I went back to Dr. Fact’s because I still had swelling under my chin.  I was sporting a turkey wattle and it was less than flattering (esp. considering all I went through to NOT have a wattle!).   He injected cortisone into my pouch and though I was skeptical the following weeks, it seems to have taken care of it (yay!).

In early April I saw my endocrinologist to have my thyroid levels checked and they were within normal range , meaning I was officially no longer hypothyroid (whoo hoo!)   Every morning around 5:30amish I pop a tiny pill of synthetic hormone.  Taking the pill isn’t a big deal, except on the weekends, but thankfully I have my kids to reliably wake me at dawn.   But I need to fast for at least an hour afterwards, and I didn’t realize how hungry I would get if told I couldn’t eat!   Nothing but water to start the day…..needless to say my first hour at work from 6am-7am isn’t always my most productive;  I basically sit salivating on my keyboard watching the clock click minute to minute.

Aside from that, the biggest change has been loosing the love of my one and only hobby, working out.   Now I realize for most people having a love addiction with the gym is like  seeking out traffic, but for those who have crossed from casual gym goer to full-on gym rat, you get me.   For decades working out was what I “did” – how I spent nearly all of my free time and vacations.   I loved anything active, hiking, running, biking, yoga, weights, cardio, swimming laps.  I worked out the day I delivered my babies and was back at it within two weeks of their births.   I loved how I looked and I loved how I felt.  But sadly, you can’t save up fitness.

Last year I did my best to keep up.  I dragged my tired, sick ass to the gym and watched sadly as I just couldn’t keep up anymore.   I started to put on weight and seemingly new body parts started to grow that I had never seen before.  I was discouraged, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

So in Jan. I resolved to get myself back.  I was determined to be one of those cases were they just “bounced back really fast” – surely I deserved it, right? I was unfortunately dead wrong.   At first, I was discouraged by all the little changes….how I looked in my work-out clothes, the bright red scars visible to the world, my lack of strength and stamina, how the pain in my left ear made it uncomfortable to wear ear buds or a headset, how whenever I tired to exercise on my back or do abdominals, my esophagus seemed to be chocked by scar tissue and I would break out into a hacking couch.  Yep, I was that awkward self-conscious person looking around suspiciously and breaking out into coughing spells – not who you want on the elliptical next to you. In a matter of months I had lost what had taken me years to develop and it hurt, still hurts.

Not to say I’ve given up (now that would just be plain stupid!).  I’m still trying to drag myself to the gym 5 days a week, as work allows.   I set up my equipment right at the very front of the class and face the mirror so I can’t hide.  I look into my eyes and tell myself that I can do this….right after asking myself what the heck is bulging over my hips and why  I didn’t shave my underarms the previous night?   I laugh at myself when I screw-up or fail when I shouldn’t – because nothing makes someone appear more sane than giggling at their own reflection in a public forum. So to all those who have the pleasure of working out with me – I know I’m the awkward one, but I’m trying.  Really trying here.  And maybe some day I’ll be back…..well, maybe if I wasn’t so old.

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Finding the Meaning

I wanted to provide another update to the genuine question of “how are you?” because it seems that the matter just never gets settled. I’m “tired”, but you were probably hoping for something a little more specific. Well, physically, the radioactive iodine that was up-taken in my body is continuing to decay at a predetermined rate. I will be “statistically non-radioactive” on March 12th (but whose counting, right?). The cells (Cancerous or not) which up-took the iodine are supposed to be dying. I’ve been told this process can take up to a year . So in summary, for the rest of the year parts of me will be “decaying and dying”. Sounds like fun, right?

In the meantime, I am still building back up a metabolism through artificial hormone, will have periodic blood draws, and continue to see my doctors to follow-up. The next “event” is another whole body scan in June to check on the status of things, so I hopefully have a little break from the hospital for a few months.

So that answers how I am physically doing, but emotionally? What I find most interesting is how my perspective on certain things has changed. And I keep finding myself questioning why? Is it because I’ve been conditioned to expect some kind of “epiphany” to come from all this? Some intrinsic meaning or message from beyond or a higher power (the “everything happens for a reason” theory)? If TV dramas and testimonials is a true litmus of reality, then I’m destined to feel like “everything has been put into perspective” , “I’ve learned what is really important in life”, and I now “cherish every moment and not take a single day for granted.” But do I really feel these things or just that I should feel them? And if I do feel these things, then why? I was happy before all this, I appreciated things.

My thoughts keep coming back to a difference between “physical/unconscious happiness” and “mental/conscious happiness” (or “deep happiness” vs. “shallow happiness”). The former being how I feel about my life in general…happy with my job, my family, my children, my appearance…basically a deep-rooted feeling of appreciation and contentment. Overlying that deeper feeling is the transitory “shallow happiness” which can come and go throughout a day; when the printer jams making my blood pressure rise in frustration and then I get back to my desk and read a funny email and laugh out loud – that’s the mental/conscious happiness ebbing and flowing. But the underlying unconscious happiness is still there the entire time. If someone were to ask me, even while kicking the printer, if I were “happy” I’d undoubtedly say “yes”.

Anyways, I bring this up, because I’m questioning if what I’m feeling is actual changes to the “physical/unconscious happiness” or at least feeling it again. When your body is under extreme stress, in pain, and/or shutting down, for me at least, it was near impossible to be ALSO feeling “physically happy”. I’ll bargain that anyone in this condition who tells you they’re “happy” are either lying, or referring to “conscious happiness” (they like what their watching/reading, or eating, or who they’re with at that moment). Of course, I was still consciously appreciative for all I have, laughed at jokes, felt love, smiled – but I couldn’t really enjoy these things, at least physically. While my body was freaking out over what was going on, it was either way too busy to be sending “happy hormones” or they were being totally masked by the “Oh crap, I’m dying” messages. It’s just impossible to be happy when you feel like total crap (there finally someone admits it!).

As all the “panic messages” started to die down, I discovered I was able to enjoy life more . More at this deeper unconscious level, which I hadn’t really noticed was actually missing. It was like being given a “happiness shot” deep into my core. I think it’s this realization that people are referring to when they describe how experiencing an illness or tragedy brought them to “value what is really important in life”. It’s not that I value different things now, or didn’t appreciate time or my life before…it’s that I’m so happy and appreciative to not feel like crap all the time! I value being relatively “healthy”, I value being able to BE happy, not just “feel” happy at given times. It’s all relative, sure things seem roses and rainbows NOW, but really only because a little over a month ago things were a black hole swallowing me up. It’s like finally being released from an emotional prison. I just want to run out into the sunshine, which seems so warm and bright now, when it’s been there all along. So I don’t think it’s anything mystical or magical happening, but actual physically changes going on in my body that are affecting my perception. But whatever it is, it is definitely WAY preferable to what was going on before and now as TV has taught me, I must break into song…and potentially a dance (where’s a flash mob when you need one?)!

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