Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 253: To Row, or Not to Row?

There's not much happening on the cancer front, although I did have my last appointment with my radiation oncologist this week. The entire visit lasted about three minutes. The doctor looked at my skin and said, "wow, you held up really well. I thought you might be one of the people to have a tough time since you're so fair, but you never know how each person's skin will react." I didn't tell him that I didn't take their advice to use Johnson's baby soap on my chest. I used Aveeno creamy baby wash and I was religious about using the Aquaphor goop. I also only used the prescription cream sparingly, and only at the bitter end, since it really is drying. So maybe I helped myself out a bit--until I decided to just rip off the last two pieces of tape after I was finished, in some manic attempt to not be marked anymore, and my skin just peeled off. But no matter--it healed in a few days. If I didn't have those blue tattoos and if there were no lumpectomy scar, you might be able to see me naked and not know I ever had breast cancer. Not that I'm offering, but you know what I mean.

It's interesting how my radiation oncologist never touched me in the entire time I saw him. He never even looked closely at the skin. He would ask, can I take a look? What, do you think I will say no, or be shy or something? Then he would look at the skin from his seat in the chair and give his opinion. I like him a lot--don't get me wrong. I'm just so used to people feeling my boobs all the time and moving my arms around like I'm a Barbie doll. So after his cursory glance, he took my weight--exactly the same as when I started radiation-- blood pressure, etc., and said "you don't have to see us anymore. Happy New Year."

That felt a little strange. You go into a place every day for months, and you hate going, but then when it's over there's a strange bit of morbid nostalgia. Only for a minute though. After a moment's reflection I was back to thinking about my rock star parking space in the hospital lot.

I have also been wondering about how I will continue to reap the benefits of these free massages and pedicures on Wednesdays now that I'm back at work. I work from home on "spa Wednesdays" but it's hard to find the time to get out of the house for that. It's the same with acupuncture, taking walks, etc. One week back at work and I gained a few pounds, all because I no longer have time to just devote to my health and being a stay at home mom. The winter's a drag for keeping in shape, that's for sure. It's so dark in the morning that I wonder how I used to get up EVERY DAY and go for my hour long walk at 5:30. Actually, if I didn't have hot flashes interrupting my sleep, making it so that on a really good night I get 4 hours, I would still do that in the morning. I love being out when everyone else is asleep and it's so quiet you can almost forget you live in a big city.

Speaking of that, most of those who know me well know how much I love Chicago. I love it in an illogical, blind way that enables me to ignore the corruption, crime, pollution and all the other problems. But lately I've been getting fed up. All of our governors, except maybe one, are in prison. We have a circus going on here for this Mayoral race, and the Aldermanic races are perhaps worse. The school day is the shortest in the nation for kids in public school, so I'm going to keep Lenny in Montessori for one more year just to avoid the babysitter nonsense and the scheduling drama that will ensue when she's in 1st grade. I feel like she's applying for college when I think about how complex it is to get into first grade. I also wonder where all of my ridiculously high taxes are going.

So there's my Chicago rant, from the girl who never thought she would ever leave. And realistically I probably won't, but it's in my mind sometimes. And then I remember why I love Chicago. I'm making plans with friends and I say, well, I can't do it Sunday. The game's on. While many of my girlfriends don't care about football, they have lived here long enough to understand that some of us do. I like how people can drive in the snow here. I appreciate the hospitals, and the clinic I wrote about last time. I also love how people look at adversity, and kind of have fun with it.

That's why I think I really am going to do this ROW thing. It's not that I have some innate desire to be on a crew team. I just like the fact that here in Chicago, there are a bunch of women of all ages who took a look at their experience with breast cancer and thought, huh, this is hard to deal with--what should I do? I know! Get in a tiny narrow boat in the freezing, dirty Chicago river and row! Of course that's the right answer.

And why not? I went to my first practice this week, which thankfully was indoors (no boats until late March). I learned that rowing is all in the legs if you're doing it right, which is why it's good for breast cancer survivors who are at risk of lymphedema in their arms. I also learned that I don't think I was doing it right. It's not a natural motion at all. I felt it in my back and my arms as well as my legs, and I was tired as hell. After an hour and fifteen minutes of practice, during which I and the other new lady got maybe a 15 minute break to talk to the coach, I was spent. At that point one of the women said "you guys did great! our first practice we only rowed for about 10 minutes!"

Now you tell me.

I think I'm in pretty good shape, back to work pudge considered. I'm relatively strong for my size and I work out a lot--I went to the gym three times this week at work and I did pilates one day as well. I skipped water aerobics, in part because I was sick with a cold but also because there need to be some days when I actually see my kids at night and don't leave Gabe in charge just so I can exercise. I'm one of these weird people who often watches TV while working out on the Bosu (great Christmas gift from Gabe!) or the ball. But this was such a different use of muscles it was kicking my ass. I got frustrated as well, since I knew my form was off. Every time I stopped to think about good form, I got slower.

But...I have this sneaking suspicion that I am going to love it and I will become insufferable, talking about catamarans and splits and the erg machine and on and on. We were in this old warehouse, and there were about twenty women and two men (the coach also works with a gay men's club). When I walked in, I asked who was in charge, and the coach wasn't there so another young woman showed me what to do. It turns out I am not the youngest one. This woman was 34 and there's another 30 year old. After me, the next youngest is 43, and there are women in their sixties as well. Apparently there was a 28 year old (!!) who just moved away. It sounds like maybe only one of the other women has small kids, which makes sense since they practice three times a week, twice at night. I will only be able to do it once, though if I get into it I might make some Sunday morning practices. It's just hard to get home after the kids are asleep, and they haven't seen me since we all were rushing four different places before work and school in the morning. I think I'm the only south sider involved, though I could be wrong.

When I started to contemplate the fact that most women I meet with breast cancer don't have small kids, I realized something. On the one hand, this is true because most women get breast cancer later in life when their kids are older or grown. On the other, if you are young and you get breast cancer, you very likely will never be able to have children if you don't already have them. It was a striking thought, something I haven't considered outside of being glad that I had my kids already. In a city like Chicago, a lot of people wait to get married, wait even longer to have kids. I was 29 when I got married. That seemed ancient to me, since my parents were done having kids at age 24, but in Chicagoland that's actually relatively young. Gabe and I met at 27 and got married almost exactly a year and a half later. Less than a year and a half after that Lenny was born, when we were 30. Only one of my friends had a kid at that time. Augie was born when we were 33, I got diagnosed at 34 and was told I had probably had cancer for that entire span of time--since we were married. Now I'm in menopause and my ovaries have been killed, and I think about how that must feel if you hadn't even gotten around to figuring out if you wanted to get married or have a family when those options were taken from you.

It's pretty shitty, that's for sure. It makes me feel lucky in a very relative way. There's no luck in having cancer. But at least it didn't stop me from doing some big things that I wanted to do: go to grad school, get married, start a family. I hope it doesn't stop me from doing other things, like continuing to work, exercise, see my kids grow up, have a happy sex life, and grow old.

So this is just to say that I liked this group of women who get together to row without talking about cancer. I like how they didn't need to ask me when I finished my treatment because the state of my hair gives it away. Everyone else in the room had long hair, or if it was short, it was that way on purpose. It gave me a nice glimpse into the future. One woman who did ask when I finished treatment was shocked that I just finished chemo in October. She said it took six months post-chemo for her to have as much hair as I have now. It's strange how these types of conversations are comforting. I have been getting a little tired of everyone commenting on how my hair is a different color, especially because I don't think it is, but mostly because that's less relevant to me than the fact that I HAVE HAIR. I can even comb it on the sides. I have started using conditioner again. I don't have to draw my eyebrows on, and I have mascara back in the rotation. I know I look like I'm at a military boot camp or something, and I know that I was more interesting, more striking, and maybe even strangely enough more beautiful, when I was bald.

But I don't give a shit because now I HAVE HAIR.

It's fun to be around people who know what that's like. It's encouraging to see women decades older than me with lymphedema working out. It's cool to go to a place where your cancer experience is the rule, not the exception, but you don't have to talk about it.

(As an aside, one of the reasons that I put all these pictures on here is that it's useful for me to have this photo-journal of my hair, week by week. I scoured the Internet when I was first diagnosed, after I started chemo and once I lost my hair, looking for some evidence of when my hair would start to grow back. I found one video that a woman did, where she sped up time to show her hair growth post-chemo. It was incredibly helpful and made me a little less depressed. So maybe this will help someone in addition to me, but if not, it's gratifying for me at least! Also I can prove that I really do wear my grandma Marthagene's costume jewelry--who needs pierced ears when I have a drawerful of great clip-ons?)

So what do you think? Can I do it? Am I too small, too much of a lightweight, or too wimpy to deal with the frigid putrid water? Will I ever get the form right? Should I keep my hair short once it becomes a choice for me? These are the deep issues I've been pondering.

Go Bears!


  1. If you do it right, you shouldn't have to worry about touching the frigid, putrid water. Also, I love your hair short and I think you are especially cute with the bright costume jewelry. PS I love your Prague shirt!!

  2. Dude, if you like it, try the rowing. The worst that can happen is you won't like it and then you'll stop. Email Beth, too. She rowed in college and could probably give you some perspective.

    Congrats on the last radiation appt, by the way. (!!!)