I've been a little MIA from my blogging duties and from, well, a lot of duties lately. And for any of you Momma Strongers to whom I owe emails and feedback and unfulfilled promises from the normally very involved and accessible Courtney, let's just high five and wink and not have to share excuses. I know you know.
First off, before I get going, I am here to say HOLLA to the big new fancy website. My eyeballs might have been permanently damaged from staring at this here computer for hours on end because of technology woes and design caca (not my forte), but I'm beyond stoked to have the new site up and ready. It's purty, right? Let's consider this Momma Strong 1.5, which leaves adequate room for Momma Strong 2.0, which is also when I get to hire people who actually do this sort of thing for a living (not me).
Ok, back to business. The business of me needing to start this post with an image of not so smooth sailing. I'm going to the cut to the chase, although I was tempted to get all melodramatic and literary on you by setting the scene appropriately and narrating the coming story from a god-like authority (MFA speak), but, nah. Remember, my eyeball damage? Here we go.
When I was breastfeeding my little one about 8 months ago (she is now 19 months old and off the boob, ahem), I felt some pain in my right breast. Truth be told, I had felt this pain even before becoming pregnant, but after having been declared a breast lump hypochondriac by everyone who loves me and the many doctors who have felt me up over the years, I decided to follow their advice and stop hunting for breast lumps. And, so, yeah, I experienced the pain quite a bit during pregnancy and later stages of breastfeeding, but completely avoided touching the area at all. In fact, I made deliberate attempts to not touch it, like ever. I convinced myself it was a milk duct gone awry or something. You know those milk ducts. Apparently they can go a little nuts, which is why this rationalization made sense. Kind of. Until I realized I was still using this rationalization like two months ago, long past my milk ducts' end of usage date.
And, so, about two months ago while taking a shower, I decided that maybe this pain was just because I was such an active bouncy worker-outer and needed new bras, thanks to the, um, hello-where'd-my-boobs-go-after-baby-itis. And, because I'm a human physiology freak and believe in all things related to the fascia, I decided this night that my boob just needed a good massage. (note to doctors and family: I was not lump hunting, I promise)
So, massage I did. And as soon as I put my hand where the pain was, I felt a hard, well-formed - gasp - lump in my boob. I quickly dropped my hand away from it and could feel that yucky, burning sensation of anxiety surge up from my solar plexus. What the fuck. After all these years of not even near-misses with breast lumps, but more like not-even-closes, now this? This well-formed mass was everything the doctors told me I needed to worry about when explaining why I didn't need to worry about the past lump freak outs. I mean, it felt like an immobile pebble in a bag of rice. To make matters worse, I also found a small swollen node in my armpit. Have you ever read those breast exam pamphlets at your OB/GYN? Yeah, basically, what I was feeling was listed under the "Run to Your Doctor Immediately" section.
And, since I was turning over a new leaf (?) in hypochondria-land, I decided to let it go. Yes, you read that right: I decided to let it go.
I know. I did. It just felt too big. Too scary. Too improbable. Too everything. And, so, I went about my business for the next two months, trying not to think about it. But, I thought about it all the time. All the time. I kept thinking the pain would go away, that the lump would change, but no. It was the same. And then finally, a friend of mine told me a story about his friend who had just gotten diagnosed with breast cancer. "She's only 32," he said. I remember feeling that same solar plexus anxiety burn as soon as he said it. I'm only 32, I thought.
I made an appointment with my OB the next week. I couldn't think about anything else during the days leading up to that appointment. Part of me was hoping she would just pass it off like she had before, telling me it was just fibrocystic or something of the sort. But, a much bigger part of me knew she was going to react differently. Which, if you allow me to fast forward a few days and skip over the melodramatic literary urge, she did. She reacted very differently. In fact, she felt the lump and left the room with barely a word. She came back with a name scribbled on an RX pad and said she had just texted the best breast surgeon in Houston, but that she was in surgery and her assistant would probably be calling me any minute to set up an appointment later that day.
Yes, if you are wondering, I freaked out. Her reaction, the texting, and the super fast appointment were all the very last things you ever want your OB, who feels boobs all day long, to do and say.
I ended up going in for an ultrasound a day later, which then led to a radiologist informing me that the mass was in fact tissue-filled and that they'd have to do a biopsy right away. And, so, that happened. F-U-N. By the way, did you know they tag breast lumps like they do wild birds? Yeah. A titanium tag got placed on the mass in my boob, just so they can keep tabs on it. And, apparently, as I was informed probably because I'm a dork and asked, I will not set off airport security machines because of it. Darn, right? Can you imagine the fodder for a chuckle inherent in that? "Oh sorry, sir, that's just the tiny titanium tag in my wild breast lump. No need to do a strip search, really."
After the biopsy, then came the waiting. Which is the worst, by far. I mean, I'm sure all people do this when faced with a biopsy, but as a mother, I felt myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of events. I had it all planned out, from A to Z. Like every freaking detail. I'm quite sure I even drafted letters to relatives about how after my death I wanted my girls to never wear both slutty AND glittery clothes (just pick one or the other) and how they had to read Little Women by the time they were 11.5 and that they probably shouldn't expose themselves to environmental toxins too much, but that they shouldn't spend their precious lives worrying about it either and that watching reruns of The Kardashians will always make them appreciate being sane and that their dad needs to only marry a feminist and and and and. There was more to the letters, of course, but those are the highlights.
Here's the part you've been waiting for: Benign.
And here's the other part. When you go through a thing like this, you are forced to face death, sure. But, you are also forced to face illness, which actually felt a little harder than death, oddly. With illness, I still have to show up, to function, and to exist, but at that same time, I would no longer be able to do everything at rapid speed like I was used to. I started to wonder how I might manage that. What would need to fall away? What would I WANT to have fall away?
Ah ha. That word: Want.
I was shocked and overjoyed by the answer I discovered deep down in my guts - after many moments of silence and pondering. Truth be told, I was ready to change my life in whatever direction the answer to this question dictated. It is that important. I was ready to leave behind anything that didn't fit, that didn't nurture my truth and my wants and all of that good stuff. The answer? In terms of my work with momma strong, I'd keep it all. In fact, I might have even wanted to up the ante even if I had been sick.
Relief. Cohesion. Gratitude. Focus. Humility. All of these things I felt. And I haven't always felt that way about my job. In fact, this might be the very first time.
Along with that, I also learned that I don't want to seek "balance." I seek vitality. Which also means that other aspects of who I am outside of momma strong are as important, if not more: Motherhood, writing, relationships, humor, learning, and nature. Oh, and freedom. I learned that we take ourselves too seriously. It's ok to mess with the status quo and to answer the call of the mischievous (benign) little voice inside of you. It's ok to listen closely to the wild part of you. It's ok to sleep in once in a while and let the kids eat cereal in your bed while watching the iPad (did I just confess that?). It's ok to ask for help. It's ok to not always appear to be totally sane (even when you are solid).
The following is an excerpt from one of my most favorite things in the world: The Power of Myth, which is an interview Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell. Amazing. You can get it on DVD. Go. Now. But, until then, here's a tiny piece of the interview that resonates:
CAMPBELL: Remember the last line [of
Babbitt]? "I have never done the thing that I wanted
to in all my life." That is a man who never followed his
bliss. Well, I actually heard that line when I was teaching at
Sarah Lawrence. Before I was married, I used to eat out in the
restaurants of town for my lunch and dinners. Thursday night was
the maid's night off in Bronxville, so that many of the families
were out in restaurants. One fine evening I was in my favorite
restaurant there, and at the next table there was a father, a
mother, and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said
to the boy, "Drink your tomato juice."And the boy said,
"I don't want to." Then the father, with a louder voice,
said, "Drink your tomato juice." And the mother said,
"Don't make him do what he doesn't want to do." The
father looked at her and said, "He can't go through life
doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do,
he'll be dead. Look at me. I've never done a thing I wanted to
in all my life."And I thought, "My God, there's Babbitt
incarnate!" That's the man who never followed his bliss.
You may have a success in life, but then just think of it-what
kind of life was it? What good was it-you've never done the thing
you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and
soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it,
and don't let anyone throw you off.
MOYERS: What happens when you follow your bliss?
CAMPBELL: You come to bliss.
I'm so grateful for this space. I'm endlessly curious about what is possible when we really get this movement in women's wellness moving forward the way I imagine. I'm taking things to the next notch in the very near future and it's gonna rock your socks off. I believe in my mission - our mission - more than ever and I'm so happy to have you here for the ride.
Oh, and one more thing: Listen to your body. ;)