Better & Bolder the Blog

BSO two weeks

snow on sand

Things I’ve learned about healing in the second week of recovering from a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo oophorectomy (BSO). 

One. When I’m tired, I’m a big whiny mess. Okay, I knew this before surgery. 

Two. The state of my physical healing and the state of my emotional healing run parallel. 

Three. Healing takes a lot of time, probably more than most of us realize and definitely more than most of us budget for.

Soon after the surgery, I felt deep regret for having it. I felt I’d mutilated my body. I was deep in fear about a future without the estrogen and testosterone that post-menopausal ovaries provide. I was mourning that I hadn’t been in menopause yet and still had some delicious time left with my ovaries. 

At first, I kept this regret from my husband, but one night I lay on the floor while he played guitar, and I complained. I have made a mistake, I said. I didn’t research enough. I acted out of fear. I said to my husband, I don’t usually make decisions so quickly like that. He kept playing and tilted his head to the side in the way that means, “Oh, really?” I said, okay, you’re right; I decided to open the Nia studio just as suddenly. I jumped into that one. He tilted his head again and opened his eyes wide as if to say, “And what else?” Okay, I said, I jumped into marrying you and having kids. Those were the best decisions of my life. I’ve never regretted those big decisions, the ones I’ve made quickly and jumped into deeply and wholly. They all required huge work and sacrifice and the pay off was always just as huge. 

I nestled down for the night into the sensation that I was somehow guided to this radical act, that I was nudged into the decision by a benevolent and conspiring Universe. 

I always feel better in the morning, but the regret lingered. On New Year’s day, I went for a walk with a friend and it was freaking cold and moving felt heavy. My pants felt too tight against the little belly wounds (small lumps now, really, one on each side where the surgeon removed the tubes and ovaries). The little wounds itch as they’re healing, and sometimes I feel a little throbbing underneath. Uncomfortable and already tired, I ended the walk early. 

On January 2nd, 12 days after surgery, I felt blessedly mostly normal. I went grocery shopping at the co-op and ran into the homeopathic doc that I’ve seen in the past. We talked for a long while before I finally said, well, I just had this surgery. I was almost ashamed to admit it to him, as if what I was saying is, “I panicked and mutilated my body. I could have trusted that a healthy lifestyle would protect me from cancer, but I don’t believe that, so I opted for surgery.”

Before I tell you what the very kind doctor told me, what he said that helped my regret almost vanish, I will tell you that today, two weeks post-surgery, is also 26 years since the death of my older sister from breast cancer. I think there are many reasons why a young person dies from an old person’s disease. I think genetics play a part. I think my sister’s experiences and inexperience, her traumas, her drug abuse, and ultimately her treatment choices all were factors. But mostly, I think: shit happens. I think, sometimes people are unlucky. 

Last month, some kids were driving home from a party. It wasn’t that late. They hadn’t been drinking. But some other driver had, or maybe it was drugs, and he ran into them, a few miles away from where we live. My daughter said she’d talked to one of the girls just a few days before on campus, and now the girl is dead. 

This is so unfair. It feels…random. There isn’t a reason. Shit happens. My heart hurts for the family. I ache. There is nothing any of us can do. There is simply loss. This is life. And I am very very very lucky to be alive another day. 

And in the co-op on a Friday morning talking to my doctor, I nudged one step further in healing. He said to me, don’t look back. It’s done. Just like that, I forgave myself a tiny bit, just in case this was a mistake. 

I spoke with my mother on the phone that evening. The days leading up to the anniversary of her daughter’s death are always difficult. Watching me have surgery had to be difficult. I said, well, this is one cancer we know I won’t get, and I offered that as if a gift. 

Before I met with the surgeon to plan the surgery, I’d already decided on having the surgery. I wasn’t reading much about the pros and cons. I didn’t read about the after-effects. I didn’t want reason or logic or facts to muddy up what had been a decision from my gut. 

When I want to connect with my emotions and psyche, I read the tarot. Five weeks before the surgery, the cards warned what was ahead. Disappointment. Loss. Sorrow. The Queen of Swords is comfortable with control and leads with reason, not fear, but I was not that Queen. I was grasping onto control, attempting to control my future: I will have this surgery. I will not have this cancer. The Death card showed itself. I am afraid of death. I am afraid of transformation. Perhaps I was not afraid of my death but of my sister’s. At 51, I’m still a young woman, that is, too young to die. There’s a lot I can do to improve my health — eat right, move well, meditate, smile, hug a bunch of people a lot. There is nothing I can do to prevent my death. Shit happens.

I can do all sorts of things to age well and nothing to prevent aging. This is the transformation that has been coming, and I’d hoped to delay it just a bit more. Now it is slamming into me, my hormones abruptly altered. My ears ring and there’s a lump in my throat, and these are my body’s signs of depletion. I flush with warmth, not often or long, but both day and night, and these are my body’s signs of struggling to adapt.

One week before the surgery, I again read the cards, and these were less balm than fuel. These cards were meant to sustain me for the two weeks post-surgery that I’d spend in my cocoon, warm at home, doing very little and resting quite a lot.

Three of Wands. The cards said (even though I wasn’t) that I was confident the experience I was having is the one I was meant to be having. I was on the verge of an awakening. 

Universe. The cards said, a cycle in me was reaching fruition and expanding. “There is nothing great than this sublime moment. Live it.”

Two of Discs. The cards said the only constant in life is change. I am the Butterfly. I am the Snake that eats its tail. Be adaptable and mobile. 

Four of Wands. The cards said, up ahead is Reward, the year end work party, the harvest festival. One cycle ends. Celebrate this completion. 

The Hanged Man. The cards said, surrender to the situation. Surrender my ego to the predicament. Do not let fear keep me from evolving.  Change demands we burn away the old and gradually accept the new seeds of hope. 

I chose this surgery because my sister died of cancer at age 30 and shit happens. All sorts of shit may still happen to me, but this one particular shit is now far far less likely to happen. Maybe that makes me chicken shit or just really really cautious. Maybe I really did hear the voice of the Universe telling me, as it has before, the path to a really good choice, one with big sacrifice and big rewards. 

It doesn’t matter. He said, it’s in the past. Move on. That’s right. I made a choice and there's nothing more to say about that. Now it’s time to evolve. 

This week I’m coming out of the cocoon, still a bit fragile, still moving cautiously. Surrendering to today, which is a bit tired, a lot emotional. Surrendering to not knowing what’s happening tomorrow. 

Ultimately, surrendering to hope. Choosing to hope and choosing to feel good and choosing to be grateful and choosing to dance. Because shit happens, but not today.

healing with Nia

just hands belly bw

In Nia, we are invited to move at levels 1, 2 or 3. Here's what that means for us in class, and here’s what it means for us for all the other parts of our lives.


Level 1 is done in a small range of motion, and its intensity is about the same as going for a walk. In Level 1, I may not reach my arms as high or squat as deeply. This is the level we use for deep awareness of sensation. It’s also a level we use when we’re healing an injury or illness. If we are tired or grieving, level 1 allows us to move in a centered and connected way, keeping us safe and supporting us. Keep moving.


Level 2 is more vigorous than Level 1. We move in a way that builds a sweat. We are building strength and increasing stamina. Our range of movement is higher, deeper, wider. Move more.


Level 3 is an all-out level. We can sustain it for only a short burst, as we might in intervals training (usually 20 seconds to a full minute). This level relies on our having firm technique and heightened body awareness so that we can push our boundaries a bit while moving safely and consciously. Nia uses the word "Enough!" to designate we got just the right amount of intensity, not too little and not too much. Go for it.


In Nia, all movements are ones that everyone can do as long as we’re willing to do those movements within our current capabilities in levels 1, 2, or 3. 


I’ve talked a bit about Level less-than-one or Level one-half. There really isn’t any such level in Nia, so this is a way of talking about moving with extra care. I read a very wise article recently about returning to running after a hiatus. The author advised us to do 20% less than we can do. Instead of doing as much as we can, we should pull back to what is easy and safe. Just as sometimes we should take a risk and push ourselves to our level 3, sometimes we should advance our healing by doing less than we feel we’re ready to do. 


There are times when what our bodies need is lots and lots of rest and very little stimulation. I’m recovering from surgery, a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, which means both my ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed because I was considered high risk for ovarian cancer. since the surgery, most of the time, I’m resting. I’ve gone for a few walks. On those walks, I can feel that I’m not swinging as much as usual. I walk a bit more slowly. At first, I felt as if I was not taking full breaths, that my breaths weren’t expanding my lungs fully. After a few walks, my breaths deepened and my tension eased. Each day, I feel the surgery receding behind me, the trauma, the lingering effects of the anesthesia and medications. 


Each day I can move a bit more, and as I move, I stimulate healing. My body has to be ready to do that. By sticking with the idea of moving less than I can, by not pushing, I’m able to move enough to encourage my body and my spirit to regain mobility. Once I’m feeling stable and mobile, I can work on regaining strength. 


I won’t get stronger if I wait until I’m fully healed to move. Moving is part of healing.

The promise of Nia is that we heal through movement. Sometimes students tell me they’re ill or injured and haven’t been to class, and I want all my students to know that you can come dance at any level, even sitting down, and for any length of time. If you dance for 30 minutes, mark your card with me as a half class. 

I may not even feel that I’m capable of moving or healing until I’m in class, surrounded by movers and dancers who invest their spirit in the class. That is, I’m healing more than my body when I’m dancing Nia. The studio, the music, the moves, the other dancers - - all of these are part of what is healing. 


Part of why we dance Nia each week is to learn more about our bodies and to become more intimate with the sensations of our bodies. That’s how we’ll know when we’ve found just the right amount of movement for what we need that day. It’s a practice, and we’ll get better at it the more we do it. 


Nia is a great cardiovascular workout. It’s fun. I love to go and get my ya-yas out. If that’s all class meant to me, though, I’m not sure I’d still be doing it after all these years (coming up on 15). A good Nia class helps me feel more connected. A great Nia class nurtures and energizes my spirit. Every Nia class is an opportunity to learn about myself and to practice living with intention and awareness. 


Here’s the invitation that I extend to you. If you’ve been waiting to come to class, please come to class. Whatever you need in life, nurture it by practicing Nia. If you want to be in the back of the room, using the wall for support, wearing shoes, and leaving after 20 minutes, then that’s good. Do what you want and what you need. Do your best not to compare yourself to others, including comparing yourself to whoever you used to be. Be happily, contentedly present, and let whatever you can do be enough. 


Once we get really good at finding Enough in Nia, we can take it everywhere— our work, our relationships. What does it mean to be levels 1, 2, and 3 in my relationship with food? What does it mean to be at level 1 or 2 or 3 during my work day? Knowing how to move in class in all 3 levels increases our sensory awareness so that we can move through our day with that same awareness and choices. That’s why Nia calls this practice Dancing through Life. This is how I use Nia to heal through movement.