Better & Bolder, the Blog

BSO one year later

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A year ago at this time, I was preparing for an elective and life-altering surgery. I was, right up until the day before the surgery, certain it was the right choice for me. 

The day before, though, I was seized by the fear that this was not the right choice. I threatened to back out, to cancel the surgery, to keep my ovaries. Were you there? In that Nia class? You all talked me down. You promised to send prayers. 

It worked. From that moment on, I was calm. I had dinner with friends and we laughed and played games. 

I woke early the day of surgery. I went for my last run with all my parts and said my final goodbyes. I thanked my ovaries for all they’d done for me. 

I was calm as the nurse started my IV. I was calm talking with the anesthesiologist, the one who told me that the effects would wear off in hours. (I knew he was wrong, and he was. The short-term memory loss I experienced the next day freaked me out, but it wasn’t unusual and it went away soon after.)

Recovery from surgery is emotionally and physically tough. I didn’t need pain pills. It wasn’t that. My throat hurt from intubation. The anti-nausea medicine made me so dried out, and I stopped them as soon as I could. Turning over in bed hurt. I felt wounded, vulnerable. 

The night before my surgery, my daughter bought me warm, fuzzy jammies, which I wore day and night for the first week of recovery. When I pulled out my winter clothes last month and saw those jammies, I had a feeling of dread. My body and spirit reacted to the memory of what it was like to have been wounded. I had felt so supported after the surgery — and I was, incredibly nurtured and supported by friends and family — yet the sensations of that invasion, the memories of the woundedness — stay with me. I put the PJs in the giveaway bag. 

In the week following the surgery, I experienced a heart-breaking regret. I had hurt my body. I had taken out healthy, functioning organs. In the months that followed, the regret lessened but didn’t dissolve. I began to run again, but I was slower, and I got injured, again. I worried a lot that I didn’t have the testosterone I would need to build muscle. I was old. 

I started experiencing digestion trouble this past summer, and one of the symptoms was feeling bloated and feeling full too easily. This is one of the few symptoms that a woman with ovarian cancer might feel. I realized that if I still had my ovaries, the symptoms would have scared me terribly.  That felt like a win, that I had this intimate experience of knowing that the surgery was doing part of what I’d intended, which was to be free from my fear. 

Then Lisa died. There’s plenty of cancer in my immediate family — breast, lung, thymus, skin — but no ovarian cancer. Lisa was who I knew who had battled (and it is a battle) ovarian cancer. Lisa was funny and warm and caring and smart, but probably what drew me to her was that she, too, is Jewish. That shouldn’t matter much but it made me feel more connected. One reason I chose the surgery is that I knew what Lisa had faced. Another layer of regret about the surgery dissipated when Lisa died. It would be churlish and disrespectful to regret a surgery that could prevent what she’d gone through. 

A month or two after the surgery, a friend asked me how I was doing. What I felt was, eh, I’m okay. I said was, ask me in a year. I had the sense that it would take a full year before I would know. 

Now I know. I feel great. 

I still have a sense of loss. I still remember what it was like to be wounded. How strange it is to be unconscious while others handle us, cut into us. I still remember what it felt like to be so nurtured and cared for. I still remember how spiritually and emotionally lifted I was by that care. 

I still feel some regret. I still feel relief and at peace.

I still feel strong. Maybe I feel even stronger. 

Menopause - not too shabby

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So far, it’s better than I’d feared it might be. Whew.


Fear number one: I’m going to miss having a monthly cycle. I’d liked the rise and fall of emotions. I enjoyed having those few days of easy tears before the bleeding began. I liked knowing where I was in life. Of course, once peri-menopause messed with my regularity, I didn’t enjoy the process as much. 

What I’ve found is that it’s freaking amazing not wondering whether I’m going to bleed. It’s a pain in the ass to be bleeding on a vacation. I hated being at work and, oops, gotta run get my supplies. It’s a delight to know I will always not be bleeding. Really, like, tra la la, I’m free! I hadn’t anticipated that I would enjoy that part so much. 

I’m also still as sentimental and easily emotional as ever, and I love that. When a young student told me about his sister nearing death, tears came to my eyes. That empathy is right there at the surface for me. A few months ago, I’d invited the Agnews for lunch. To prepare, Siobhan was in the kitchen making her wonderful vegan, gluten-free pizza and oh-my-god-amazing chocolate cake. Hugh was helping clean up the kitchen. There is something immensely satisfying for me when we’re together as a family, working on a project, getting ready for guests, whatever we’re doing that’s mundane and joyful. Hugh stopped to put on some music - tapes! he got out some cassette tapes! — and played an old Bruce Hornsby tune, a sad sad song, “Lost Soul.” I began to cry.  I walked to my husband and clung to him, crying. He knows the drill. We’ve done this before. He doesn’t have to ask what’s wrong. He knows he’s just supposed to hold me. I finally came up for air and explained, “That’s a very sad song.” Then we laughed. 

This is what I might expect when my hormones are galloping. But they don’t gallop any more. They don’t thunder through my life. I thought without their strong steady pulse that I wouldn’t be so easily moved. It’s a great joy to be moved to tears by my family being with me. That song is as old as my daughter is, and the passage of time felt sweet and satisfying, not scary at all.

On that beautiful fall day, Hugh and Pete went off with the twins while Diane and I talked. The guys took the twins outside to draw with chalk. Later, back inside, they climbed with the children up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs pushing the exercise ball that’s bigger than a 17th month old, down the stairs again. I’m so glad those twins aren’t mine. I’m so glad I’m not in my 30s. I’m so glad I get to be a part of their lives in this way. And how perfect is this timing? That just as my own children have become adults, I have a set of tiny humans to watch grow and help nurture. I get to help nurture the tiny humans’ parents as well. I can no longer create tiny humans and the loss of that is offset by something so perfectly right and perfectly timed: being a part of someone else’s new family. Joy is brighter than loss, and the passing of time acquires sweetness when I focus on the joy.


Fear number two: I’m going to miss my testosterone and estrogen, in that order.

In perimenopause, I already experienced that it seems so much easier to become injured and that I heal less quickly. I’ve already found that I just don’t build muscle the way I used to. 

As I gained weight and my running times slowed, a lot, I began to resign myself to a less athletic future. I knew some people were rocking the weights and still running fast in their 50s and 60s but I didn’t seem able to keep up. 

Then I changed my diet (see this post) and I got young again. Not young young, just actually my real age young. As I lost weight, my running times improved. I ran a faster 5K race at 52 and in menopause than I’d ever run before in my life. Ha ha! That’s a win for the power of our minds to fuel our performance. As I trained, I came up with a new motto: no ovaries, all heart. I run faster now because I push myself more. 

I wonder sometimes if I could be even stronger and faster with the hormones my ovaries would have provided. That’s a really fruitless wondering.


My husband remembers a time, a perfect afternoon when the kids were much younger and the four of us went for a hike in the Sandias. It was both mundane and spectacular, and my husband had a sense that if he’d died right then, it would be okay. He was that full. He had his wife and kids, and he was walking in nature, and everything was right. There was nothing more important than that to accomplish. His life had meaning. 

I had that moment one day this fall. It wasn’t a perfect day or even a particularly special one. I just woke up and knew: I’ve done what I needed to do. This has been a really good ride.

This doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the next forty years. I really am. In fact, I’m probably more excited and positive about aging and my future than I’ve ever been. Those first 50 years are hard work. Being a kid can be overwhelming. Then we’re figuring out careers, love, the whole family thing. It’s great, for sure, and constant work. I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger and here’s the secret sauce: I don’t need it. I don’t have so much I need to get done.

I sense opportunity. I sense I can make thoughtful choices about how I want to grow older. I can choose how I want to live in my body. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to be fierce. 



Thinner

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Thin people are allowed to be thin. I am not allowed to be thin. I can possibly be not fat, but never thin. Thin is for other people. Even owning, “I am not fat,” causes alarms to go off in my head. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that. 

For those of us who decided at some point that we were fat, losing weight feels somewhat unreal, definitely potent, and possibly dangerous. 

Perhaps we feel guilty or even spooked. It’s as if I’ve stolen a gift and I have it undeserved. 

My body feels quite happy at this weight. I feel both solid and light. I do not feel unashamed.

At first, there was that flicker: if I could lose weight now, why couldn’t I have done this before? I really was a terrible person for being fat. Since my weight was under my control the whole time, I was out of control when my weight wasn’t under control. If I’m capable of eating this little, it’s terrible that I haven’t always been capable. (Yes, I know that voice in my head is cruel.)

There’s the fear, too, that when the weight returns, it will feel even worse. That we’ll remember what it was like to be thinner and we’ll know it was possible - so why isn’t it possible still? I can’t possibly be allowed to keep this gift, the gift of living in a body that is just the weight I like. 

A friend who is thin says my body is fit, which is true, and it’s true, really, whether I am this weight or twenty pounds more. I am not slim or thin, but fit. That is the constant reality of my body. That is something worth feeling pride about. 

I feel both delighted and guilty that my pants size has gone down and down again. I’m not trying to be skinny. I want to tell everyone this: I didn’t set out to get thinner. I just was having trouble with food, again, and I changed how I was eating, again, and then this happened, again. 

I like it a lot — like how I look, how I feel. I like the number on the scale and the tag on my pants. I feel I got lots of belly to go around still. My breasts, deflated, are much less full. They were full and ripe, exceptional, and have become the saggy breasts of a woman in menopause. Oh, right. That’s me. I don’t think I’m looking so great naked these days, but I don’t wish for the fullness to return to my breasts. I hold the possibly irrational belief that less fat = healthier breasts, with “healthier” being code for “cancer-free.” I have a not-scientifically-proven hope that finding a cancer is easier when the breasts are less dense. 

I feel guilty that women around me are hitting menopause and feeling their pants grow tighter. That happened with me, too, and I thought it was both inevitable and healthy. Maybe it was, for that time. 

Now I wonder if my body has figured out there are no more babies happening and we don’t need all that luscious body fat. I wonder if it’s easier to be thinner post-menopause for those of us in first world countries where our nutrition is constant, diverse, and superior. I don’t need extra weight in case of famine: my body has never known famine.

Still, I wonder if others eye me with suspicion or derision. I wonder if they think I’m eating disordered (hey, I never said I wasn’t, but weighing more didn’t mean I wasn’t).

My body tells a story, but it’s not the story that somebody else might think it is. 

October 2015