Ran across some old photos and videos. I sure am anxious to get back to being active. I’ve had to learn to take it down a few notches in the last 9 months, which has been humbling, challenging, frustrating, and also refreshing. All in all it’s made me a stronger woman, and I’m grateful for how much I’ve had to transform through learning my own limits. Yet, I can’t help but anticipate the possibilities when I see these:
*Spoiler Alert: I’m talking about my boobs in this blog post.
The first thing I want to state clearly before anything else is that I am in no way claiming to identify with the very painful, unexpected, and challenging struggle that real breast cancer survivors deal with on a regular basis. I do not have breast cancer. I’ve never had breast cancer. With God’s grace, I won’t ever have breast cancer. But if the events I went through on February 17, 2016 are any indication – any slight glimpse or small slice – of the earth shattering effect this disease can have on one’s life, then please know that all cancer sufferers have no choice but to be strong, even if they appear weak to outsiders. I respected all of you before, but this experience only furthered my admiration of your courage.
Next, if you couldn’t tell by the date, it’s taken me a while to come to a place where I can write about this on this blog. Am I embarrassed? Maybe a little. Logically, that doesn’t make sense, but shame and fear don’t have to be based in logic in order to happen. I think that it’s been hard for me to find the words to tell this story, and still is. I’m going to do my best right now:
On the morning of February 16th, I awoke and began my exercise routine as usual. My breasts were tender, which was pretty typical for where I was in my cycle for the month, so I didn’t give it much thought.
I did my workout as best I could, incorporating jacks and burpees where Shaun T required, but as the 25-minute workout wore on, the tenderness in my left breast morphed into pain. It was a dull pain, but still pain. It discouraged me from jumping by the time I was at the end because I didn’t want to feel the sting.
As the day carried on, the pain worsened, and on the morning of February 17th, I couldn’t lie on my stomach, couldn’t change bras, couldn’t face the showerhead, and couldn’t run, jump, dance, or do movements that incorporated impact. Any movement I made was painful, so I tried to keep still. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain I’ve ever experienced (dry labor with Kennedy) I would say my pain level was at an 8. I was crying.
I told Fabian what was happening and his mind raced to panic. He’s not a hysterical person, ever, but he immediately began fearing the worst. Rather than drive myself crazy Googling symptoms and trying to diagnose myself, I made a tearful call to my gynecologist to ask if there was any way I could be seen that day.
Thankfully, there was an opening just two hours later, and I took the appointment. I left Fabian at home to watch Kennedy while I went because I didn’t feel like having her come to the doctor with me (I think the original plan was to leave her with my dad, but he was unavailable at the time).
My gynecologist examined me and observed nothing out of the ordinary. No lumps, no breaking of the skin, and no engorgement, so he referred me to an imaging center for a mammogram and ultrasound “just in case.”
Just in case? At the time, I was only 31. I had just finished with the MBA program and I was in the best shape of my life! This couldn’t possibly be happening to me.
I sobbed as I walked down the hallway to the elevators and through the lobby out to the parking garage where my car was parked. I sobbed as I turned the key over and started the engine, plugged the address for the mammography place into my phone and drove the 1.5 miles from my starting location. As I parked my car in the parking lot, I started to get angry.
I walked into the clean, pretty building and was greeted by a woman who seemed distracted but still interested in completing her job as receptionist, or medical assistant, or file clerk…I’m not sure what her official title was. She handed me a clipboard with what seemed like endless forms to fill out, and I angrily scribbled all 20 letters of my first and last name onto them along with my address, phone number, emergency contact info, any allergies, and whether or not I had a family history of breast cancer. [Side note: Breast pain is NOT an indication of breast cancer.]
Fueling my anger was the seemingly careless banter of the women behind the front desk. Looking back, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, but it was still inappropriate for them to be smack-talking one another as they’d trade places entering and exiting the area as they completed their duties. I don’t want to hear that on a normal day, let alone when I’m anxiously awaiting my first-ever mammogram and breast ultrasound. I wrote a complaint about this.
A technician called me back after what seemed like an eternity, showed me to a room, and instructed me to change into a smock that she provided. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. It was certainly roomy enough to provide me adequate coverage, and the pattern was a nice touch, and it even looked like it was handmade. I thought that it might be daunting to have the job of sewing smocks for patients to wear before mammograms. Your creation could be the last thing that person wears before being told about a life-changing diagnosis (Can you tell the weight of this scenario made me crumble just a bit?).
Nonetheless, I detested the smock. I also detested that I’d been moved to another place to sit and wait again. No more effing waiting, okay? Just get the test over with so I can go home and hide for a month. Please just let me go. Please tell me this is some nightmare I will wake up from. Please make this pain go away.
The mammogram was first. Mad props to all women over 40, and all the others who have had to have this procedure done. It hurts. It’s awkward. It’s not quick. The technician, who was honestly very sweet and kind, maneuvered my breast onto a glass plate to be crushed in order to capture the image. There was a grab bar for me to hold on to, and I mostly just stared at the ceiling, trying not to fall apart, wincing with pain. Though my issue was localized to one side, both breasts were examined, and both hurt. After that procedure was done, I was taken to another room for the ultrasound. My gynecologist must’ve written STAT onto my order, because one of the doctors stood in while the ultrasound technician did my scan. I’ve never enjoyed ultrasounds. Outside of getting to see glimpses of my baby while I carried her, the components of an ultrasound are not compatible with my preferences. First there’s that jelly. Ew. Then there’s the probe. Always cold! Then there’s the pressure that seems to always accompany. I get that you need to see things closer, but ow! As an anxious woman with strict personal bubbles, this stuff makes me depressed.
As the technician probed both breasts for the ultrasound, the doctor was able to confirm that the tissues appeared normal. I asked the doctor to look again, and the ultrasound tech moved the probe over my left breast slowly once more at my request. I peeked at the screen more closely as I winced from the sensation of touch. I’m no doctor, but I didn’t see anything suspicious either. He confirmed again that things were normal, and gave me information for what would happen with follow up. I left in a better mood, but still in pain. I taught Cize that night, but I don’t know how.
The conclusion of this ordeal was that my pain was connected to a hormonal shift. I’ve not experienced anything like it since, and hadn’t before. I had my hormone levels tested shortly afterward, and was told that everything is normal, to my surprise. I’ve anticipated starting menopause early due to the medical history of women in my family, but I was told that I’m not in that stage or near it right now.
After all was said and done, I felt grateful, shaken, and humbled. Medically, I was fine. Emotionally, I had to prepare to be. Physically…I’m okay.
I’ve been overdue for a new tattoo, but people who know me well know that my body modifications are always tediously planned out. I don’t get inked just for the sake of doing it; my tattoos each have a story that’s tied to my soul and likely represents something more than just the illustration. Meet my newest piece: the semicolon.
Laurel alerted me to the Semicolon Project last year, and while I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I respect the project’s vision and have a personal investment in anything aimed at preventing anxiety, depression, suicide, and self harm to all people. The Semicolon Project is a valuable tool for a world inundated with put-down culture. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that people are plagued with depression in our world because most of the images and messages marketed to us center on death, destruction, criticism, and getting us to emotionally react. Innovators of the Semicolon Project urged people who were feeling suicidal, depressed, or anxious to draw a semicolon on their hand or wrist. As explained by supporters of the movement, “A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to,” empowering individuals to choose another way.
My own experience with depression, anxiety, and suicide dates back to when I was a teenager and my parents were nearing divorce. All of the fighting, stumbling on my father’s plans to move me away from my mother and not knowing how to tell him, being asked who I’d like to live with, witnessing them lying to each other – it was a lot to handle. I didn’t have a sibling to seek comfort from, and the nearest extended family member’s home was 300+ miles away. That was the earliest, and thankfully one of the only, times I felt like dying would be a better option than waking up the next day. I was not suicidal again until I faced postpartum depression after having Kennedy.
Side note: My parents didn’t end up divorcing, but it’s important to point out that even a rock solid marriage like theirs has seen its battle days.
As far as I can pinpoint, depression has been a big bubble in my life, encompassing chaptered chunks of time that happen to be in chronological order. I didn’t know it was there half the time, but I think I was able to disguise it to myself by training my mind to think otherwise. After the third year of my parents living in Florida and me in California, I’d trained my heart to think it wasn’t hurting for them to keep myself from completely falling apart watching my friends all spend time with their families. Coping mechanism? Maybe. It’s been a complicated web to untangle, and that’s the best I can come up with so far. I’m still working on it.
Anxiety is an entirely different bear and by far the one I work hardest to manage. Anxiety is what tells me to worry, tells me to second guess myself, dreams up the worst case scenario and then plays it on repeat, and who shouts ugly things at me when I’m feeling weak. I hate it. I have it. But it does not have me. This tattoo is mostly dedicated to that. I chose my bicep too because, well, it takes strength to pause and decide. Our world values moving fast, but I say we take it slow. Slow down and be intentional. Stop missing things because you were moving too quickly through them. Pause, reflect, decide what serves you and discard what doesn’t, and last but not least: do.
My tattoo is a reminder that though my pace of life can become rapid, I am still in control of how fast it plays, and how many times it gets paused for reflection, for recovery, and for peace.
That’s me at the start of the year. I was fresh off of a life-changing move, in the habit of drinking nightly, and I ate whatever I wanted.
Ever have trouble peeling garlic? Here’s a quick tip:
Here’s a video on how to pan flip like a master (sort of):
Here’s quick tip 8 on how to prep your tofu…
And quick tip 9 on how to make your water less boring!
Keep in mind that you should be drinking half of your body weight in ounces each day of water in order to stay well-hydrated!
In the past three days, I’ve spent a lot of time in webinars and watching videos for both professional and personal development. As a professor, it’s a requirement that I complete a certain number of hours of professional development in order to stay fresh on my subject matter and best practices for the industry I work in. I’ve always kind of looked at it as a pain, and I usually scramble to complete it each quarter. My professional development for both of the schools I teach for is due next week.
As a fitness coach, I’m also encouraged to do personal development – this is for the purpose of personal growth, which enables me to connect with the people whom I coach more comprehensively and purposefully. So, in the last few days, I’ve had to do a lot of “behind the scenes” work to make myself better in my roles as an educator and as a coach. It’s been time consuming and laborious because of the amount of note taking I have done, but it’s also been immensely humbling as I can feel myself turning over a new leaf.
Life is very much about perspective. We can view situations in a number of different ways to lead to a variety of different outcomes. For some, a flat tire on the way to work can be a huge day breaker – they will allow this incident to set the tone for the remaining 16 hours of their day. For others, it’s an inconvenience, but nothing to cry about. And for others still, it’s seen as a nice excuse to grab a cup of coffee and head into work later that morning. Each of these different outlooks comes from a different approach. The way you choose to approach a situation will directly affect your experience. Some people approach work or certain relationships with a bad attitude, so it’s no surprise that they have a poor experience. While taking a positive approach to situations doesn’t give way to utopian dreams, it certainly makes the experience easier rather than more difficult.
I’ve had to check myself recently, because I wasn’t taking the proper approach to all aspects of my life. Lately, I’ve been working hard at making repairs in my marriage by communicating more positively and expressively to my spouse who in turn has reciprocated. Who doesn’t love sharing positive communication with their spouse? I’ve also been on a soul-searching journey to figure out just what my future will be as a career woman, a mother, a creative soul – as a person. While these areas seemed to be blossoming in my life, my professional experience was tepid and lackluster. Because of the person I am, I don’t like to just half-ass or phone it in on things that define me. The day I start half-ass parenting (and not just “I had a long day so let me microwave dinner” parenting, but blatant, “I’m going to cut major corners as a standard” parenting), half-ass spousing (which I was doing for the latter half of 2014, and I’ve since stopped because it was selfish and hurtful) half-ass teaching, half-ass friending, half-ass LIVING – the day I start doing any of that is the day I need to just withdraw altogether. Half-ass teachers do not inspire. Half-ass marriages don’t work. Why have friends if you’re going to half-ass it? Why work a job if you’re not going to give it your all?
I have been half-assing my job as a professor, maybe not in my on-ground position, but definitely in my online position. I think I made an unfair comparison to what IU would be like by expecting CCSD standards, which are impossible to expect. It’s like biting into a strawberry but wanting it to taste like a peach. It’s not going to happen! And as a result of my unrealistic expectations and subsequent disappointment, I had grown to resent my job and bosses. I became accustomed to doing the bare minimum and was ready to fire back at anyone who demanded otherwise. I’m ashamed to admit it, but this is who I was.
Then I devoted some time to personal development as a coach, and it dawned on me: The only way to make my situation into what I wanted it to be was to treat it like it was what I wanted it to be. I needed to treat my job as exciting and engaging, treat my boss as a woman with experience and good feedback, and look at the company as one that housed potential for me if I should choose to seek it. My bad experiences were exactly that – my bad experiences. They don’t speak for the overall school and could have easily been changed by a different approach. I had to check myself before sitting down with my boss for my annual review, and instead of throwing my hands up in the air and telling her I was fed up, I sat down and admitted to her that though I was performing well, I could do better. I had to apologize for half-assing it. She seemed surprised but also appreciative, and we both came away with lots of positive gems after this meeting. I’m so glad, because it could have easily gone sideways had I not been honest with myself.
Are you honest with yourself? Are there things that you could be doing that you aren’t because you’re making excuses or half-assing it? I believe the purpose for development on any job is to make us into better people to fill our roles. Yeah, the webinars and seminars are time consuming. Some cost money and require travel and we’d much rather be at home with our loved ones or doing the things we enjoy. However, nobody becomes great by simply staying where they are. Self-actualization is an ongoing process over the course of our entire lives, and it can only happen when we look at ourselves honestly and decide to make improvements in the areas we are falling short in. If you’re someone who thinks you don’t need professional or personal development I ask you this: Are you CEO of the company you work for? Are you financially set for the rest of your life? Is your body perfect? Are your relationships perfect? Have you learned all there is to know in your industry?
Nobody can answer yes to all of those questions, which is why personal and professional development is for everyone. Yes, even you.