Friday, June 9, 2017

The Dead Shall Rise

I am not invincible.

I've been away far too long.

The journey is never ending for me.

The peaks and valleys of my battle for control and balance have been many and I have been feeling discouraged, but I'm back.

My goals are mostly the same as they have always been. I'm learning to take care of myself, that it is ok to say "no" sometimes and that I have to make myself a priority too. It's a learning process.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Falling Back In Line...

So a lot has happened since my last post. My reduction has healed nicely, I'm back at all the normal things in life and loving that I am no longer hindered by the weight of my chest.

Even bigger things have happened since my last post though.

I went on an adventure with two girl friends from college. At the age of 38, after a spinal fusion surgery in 2013, a hysterectomy in 2014, college graduation in 2015, a breast reduction in July 2016 followed by an emergency appendectomy 6 weeks later (yeah I had that too), I strapped a 15 pound, 65 Liter backpack to my back, loaded with everything I believed I would need and headed to Ireland and Scotland with two of the most wonderful ladies I am blessed to call my friends...who are also 15 years younger than I am.

If you would like to catch up on the details of that adventure, you can follow our blog at Once there, you can also find a tab called "Individual Posts" and scroll to the bottom and find my personal writings from the trip if you like.

A lot can be said about loading the essentials of life, or those you view as essential, and setting out to experience a world you have never touched. You very quickly realize what things you do not need to survive or enjoy your journey, the value of a clean hot shower and the importance of a comfortable pair of shoes.

I learned that I spend far too much time in my head, and not enough time diving into the depths of my soul and allowing myself to just BE. There is something about living simply, not staying in one place and finding yourself in the journey. It was an adventure, to say the least, to travel with people I've never traveled with before. Three women, each opinionated and emotional, stuck together for 25 days is pretty much a guarantee for drama, bickering and hurt feelings. However, this is also a way to strengthen a friendship, learn where your own shortcomings are and to grow into an even better friend to those you value. Even someone who works hard to be considerate and flexible can learn that they are more selfish than they thought, I know I learned that about myself along the way.

I think that the things that I learned most about myself through these 25 days was that my body is stronger than I have been led to be believe. With all the surgeries, the health issues and my extreme difficulty in losing weight, I have come to look at myself and my body with this sort of depressed pity. It is how I have come to believe the outside world views me. I know that in some cases this is a very real opinion of me. I especially saw it in eyes of strangers as they watched me, not my younger, thinner companions, lift and strap on a heavy backpack to walk the next mile or so from a train to the next destination. These people did not know the incredible journey my body has already been on leading up to this trip. They just see an overweight woman, older than those she travels with and they assume I'm struggling to keep up. What they don't know is that I was not winded, I was not weak by the end of the day or by reaching our hostel. Instead I dropped my pack, moved some things to my day bag, retied my shoes and walked several miles more to excitedly experience this once in a lifetime opportunity.

I am stronger than I believe.

I didn't come back 30 pounds lighter. I came back 2 pounds heavier. By the end of my trip, my pack weighed over 30 pounds. My day bag, a smaller backpack I carried on my arm while wearing my fully loaded larger backpack I came to call "Dumbo", was loaded with 10 pounds of stuff as well, including my camera, lens, tablet and my beloved Nana's ashes. In all I carried close to 50 pounds on my body while also carrying my own body weight (which we all know is no less than 200 pounds as that has been my constant weight range for the last several years).

That said, I took nearly 350,000 steps. I did things I never thought I'd be able to do again.....and then I pushed myself even farther past that point and did more. I challenged myself to be away from my husband and kids for nearly a month and to allow myself to not be the wife or the mother, but to be just the writer, the wanderer, vagabond, gypsy and photographer that I am at my core.

I wholeheartedly believe that I have found that my direction is to have no specific direction at all. I have to silence the voices in my head that tell me I'm not enough, that I'm a the "fat guy in the little coat" trying to squeeze my oversized being into a size and shape I'm not worthy to hold. I don't have to make myself fit into the space provided to me. I can and must just...go. Go where the world fades away and I stop caring what others think, where the voices fall silent in my head and all I hear are the sounds of my heartbeat and the breath in my lungs. Where all I see is the beauty that surrounds me, the smile and the companionship of those who believe in me and value what my body can do and challenge me to push it beyond those limits.

So now that I'm home, I'm back at my regular job....but my spirit still wants to be roaming. I don't want to become comfortable, just staying put and not breathing in the exotic spices that float on the air in far off places or touching the earth in places I have seen in my dreams. I'm already daydreaming about the next adventure. I don't know where it will be, when it will be or how I'm going to get there....but I know I'm going, I must.

But for now, I'm looking at graduate school programs, trying to find something to occupy my mind and ease my restlessness.

For now, I'm just falling back in line.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Update: Slow and Steady - One week post-op

The first week was difficult, to say the least.

I am thinking any time they deconstruct your breast, removing the nipple completely and reattaching it. "difficult" is the perfect description for what you are about to feel once the full range of anesthesia wears off. The fact that a breast reduction (with a built in lift) is performed in an outpatient setting is extraordinary. However, my surgeon took 4.5 - 5 hours to complete a surgery that they normally do in 3.5 hours. She does this to ensure that she takes her time to give the best possible shape and outcome.

They sent me home, bandaged and packed into a surgical bra. Immediately I felt smaller, which was the goal after all. HA HA. There was a ton of swelling, so it would be impossible to really know my new body shape and new breast size. Over the first couple days I mainly slept off the lingering anesthesia. For me this always last several days to a week, depending on how long I was under general anesthesia to begin with. With my back surgery, after being under for 9 hours, I was groggy for the full week that I was in the hospital and then for another week/week and a half when I got home. So it was no surprise to myself or my family that I basically slept the first 5 days after getting home this time.

They did some liposuction under my arms as well, to get rid of that annoying little chicken cutlet fat pocket between the arm and breast that just about every woman gets. Only my doctor decided that she was going to smooth out just under my arm, along my sides just a bit more to minimize the bra bulge that we women get from wearing bras, which can migrate the fat and tissue from our breasts into the underarm area. (WOOT WOOT) This was nice of her...but I have to say the bruising from that liposuction was far more painful in the first 5 days than the reconstructed breasts themselves. This is probably due to the fact that the nerves in my breasts have been severed and reattached. The swelling and numbness has been incredible. It is almost as if my breasts aren't mine.

There has been one minor red flag, though it was a short lived one. My left breast was having some difficulty in eliminating the fluid that collects in the area during the healing process. This caused the tissue directly under the incision on the bottom (the "anchor") to swell out. This caused the breast to appear as if it had been cut, an inch from the base, and sewn back on an inch off center. However, once I started back on ibuprofen for pain, instead of Percocet, the swelling began to go down. By the next morning, the bulge was noticeably smaller. Now, three days later, the fluid is almost fully eliminated and I am starting to have more natural looking (as well as even) breasts. This fluid retention is common and is often the reason why drains are used. 

The healing process has been a steady one. Slowly, the sensation has returned, for the most part, to my breasts as a whole. Sometimes the tissue, especially the nipples, will not have proper blood flow and will start to die. They said to watch for this in the nipples, as this tissue death will happen there first. However, I'm please to announce (be it awkwardly) that this has not been the case for me thus far and everything looks a nice and healthy pink shade, where the yellow, black and blue of the bruising hasn't settled that is.

I'm still limited in my activities. No bouncing at no exercising yet. (Bummer.) No regular bras for at least another week. So I'm still wearing a surgical bra, though I did order a new one since the one they sent me home in was too big to begin with, and once the swelling started to dissipate it didn't do anything to help with the compression necessary for fluid absorption.This bra must be worn 24/7 for the first 2 weeks at least.

Sleeping has gotten more difficult, rather than easier. At first, sitting slightly upright is necessary and you must remain on your back. The first couple days, this isn't so much of an issue. Being on pain medication allows you to sleep fairly comfortably in one position all night. However, as the body starts to heal, you long to change positions and lay in your usual ways when sleeping. I'm a side and back sleeper, but I can't sleep the way I'm comfortable because I have to lay on my back, propped up still, in order to avoid pressure on the incisions.

I watched a lot of YouTube videos in the time leading up to my surgery, and I found a lot of great insights to the recovery process. However, there were a lot of things that I feel weren't mentioned by people. So, I'm going to give you some of the things that I noticed in this first week.
  1.  You can't lift your arms. - You aren't allowed to lift your arms so that your elbows raise higher than your shoulders. This means, no getting a glass from the cabinet, no driving, no showering yourself, no styling your own hair, no getting yourself dressed...etc. 
  2. You will not want to go anywhere. - Seriously. You won't want to go anywhere while you are only able to wear the surgical bra. At least not for the first few days. 
  3. Your breasts will not be the only things swollen. -  Your abdomen will likely be swollen, as will your legs and arms and much of the rest of your body. You can be so swollen that your body feels like a water balloon, with the skin so taut that it feels hard when pressed. It will take up to a week for this swelling to go down enough that you can squeeze into anything other than yoga pants. Just drink tons of water and wait for it to flush out of your system. 
  4. Your stomach will suddenly look pudgy/pudgier than it did before. - Even after the swelling has gone down and you have returned to a more normal size, you will feel like the stay-puft marshmallow man. Your breasts used to hold your shirts out and away from your body more, creating a tenting effect that obscured your midsection. This tenting is greatly diminished, even with the remaining swelling a week later. Give yourself time, don't be too hard on your body. It will take time to get used to the new shape and you won't be able to exercise for a while. So eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, be patient and BE KIND to yourself. 
        That's about all I can think of right now, I'll add more if I think of any.

Overall, I'm excited to see what it is all going to end up looking like. I'm anxious to return to "normal life" with work and all, but I know I have to give my body the time it truly needs to heal. I'm on day one of week two post-op, so I'm looking forward to what this week will hold for me and my new boobs.

On a side note, I named them this week. The right one, I call "Frank" and the left is called "Stein" at least for now they are "Frank & Stein". LOL In time I'm sure this change...but it works for now. :-)

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Life Changing Choice

I debated about whether or not to write this post, not because it is particularly controversial or outrageous but because I have found that people have one of two reactions. Either they are shocked and ask why I would, or they have a comment about waiting this long to do it. Sadly, most are not as supportive as I would have hoped. Truthfully though, this journey  has been to be my best self, to love myself and to take care of myself. I do not do the things I choose to please anyone but myself. I do it to improve my life and my happiness, which in turn allows me to give even more time and energy to those who matter, my family and friends. The goal is to be honest with my struggles, not just successes.

After years of dealing with back pain, headaches, shoulder pain and numbness, along with difficulty exercising, driving, standing and walking for long periods, shopping or clothing and even sleeping, I have decided to remedy this situation.

I have decided to get a breast reduction.

I have considered it for about 20 years. Debated back and forth if I should take that step, and each time I got close to a choice, I chickened out. Not because I'm afraid of surgery but because of the reactions I get at the idea of having smaller breasts. Most people think I'm crazy for doing it, either because they don't think I look all that large, or because they think it would be awesome to have such a large bust.

I developed relatively early. I was about 12 when I started needing a bra. Not terribly uncommon, I don't think. However, I differed in that I went from barely needing a bra to a 30 D/DD by the time I was 13. This trend didn't end for me. At the age of 18, I could no longer buy bras in any "regular" shop and took to finding the rare 30 G on a rack at Nordstroms. By the time my children were born, I thought that like most women, when I finished breastfeeding, my size would return to their previous size. They didn't. Each child took to me a larger size. Thank goodness I only had two kids, right? Over the years my weight began to fluctuate. Way up and then way down. And still my breasts only got bigger, never smaller. The band size would change, but weight loss or gain had no bearing on my bra size. Eventually, I grew to a size that was impossible to buy in a shop and I had to start ordering them. (This was around the age of 22.)

As you may know, I had spine surgery in 2013. My pain has continued and I have religiously seen spine specialists and my regular doctor. I've had countless MRIs and CTs, nerve tests and various methods of pain management. I had resolved myself to living with the constant pain and the self consciousness that comes with your breasts walking in the room 20 minutes before the rest of you.

Really, this is what has been the most taxing in my life. I was embarrassed by them at a young age and then I tried to embrace them and be proud of how God made me. But really they brought me the worst kind of attention. It warped my mind and self esteem. I started to see myself as only a pair of breasts. The keeper of the big boobs. I began to believe that my breasts were my only good physical quality, and so my identity began to wrap around this concept. I wanted to be liked for my personality, for my laughter and even for a pretty face (though I was never considered pretty by boys I liked). As my weight increased in my adult years, I could hide how large my breasts are, somewhat anyways.  Everyone just assumes that they are large because I am fatter than I used to be. However the doctors have established (much to my dismay) that weight loss won't change their size.

And so, next week on Wednesday I am taking the leap. With my wonderfully supportive husband by my side, I'm going under the knife and reducing my 32P breasts to a D/DD. Still a large size for my 5'2", small boned frame but with still 50 pounds to lose, my surgeon feels that taking me smaller would leave me with barely any breasts once the weight is off.

I'm nervous. I'd be lying if I claimed otherwise. And yet I'm really excited. Finally I will be able to wear clothes that I only dreamed of being able to wear. Cute bras in normal shops will be an option for me again. I'll be able to exercise without a regular bra secured with 3-4 sports bras. Driving will no longer require my hands to be on the bottom of the steering wheel, or a seat belt that resides across my collar bone and throat instead of extending between my breasts across my body. Finally, a conversation can be had without feeling like the other person can look only at my chest. I will no longer look twice as wide as I am in photos, just because my breasts take up so much of the photo and my frame.

It will be a long recovery. To fully recover and for all swelling to go down, it could take up to a year. I will not be able to buy those cute bras, or even know my true size until around 6-8 weeks out at the earliest. It does mean 2-6 weeks out from work, but the idea of feeling like the world around me finally sees ME and I can look in the mirror and see more than just the keeper of the breasts, on top of all the physical changes and eased pain, seem all worth it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Let the training begin?--An update of sorts.

Graduation is over, Christmas has passed and the New Year approaches.

It is time to get back on track to realizing my goals, and I have no idea where to start!

We don't have snow (yet) this winter, just a ton of rain. Thank goodness I have waterproof hiking boots to get out in the wet, muddy weather to start my training! Now, to just find a buddy who can train with me during the week when the hubby is working.

Still on the hunt for properly fitting workout wear, which as I posted previously is not easy because it seems like stores an manufacturers prefer to ignore the size 14/16 girls and concentrate on the svelte size 4s of the world. Sports bras are impossible in my band & cup size (I have to order my bras from Poland and even then they are custom made to my size) so my only choices include a regular bra under 3 "sport bras" least until I can hire someone to custom make a sport bra for me as well.

I've been diving into my AllTrails app, which I installed on my phone, to find new hiking places around me so that I can start challenging myself to do  more difficult and longer treks.

I'm into the exciting part of setting a large goal. That euphoria that overwhelms you when you finally are able to make the time to focus on the goal and set real plans to achieve it. I don't want to be unprepared, but I'm afraid that I'll focus on a small piece and miss something huge.

And still......I make lists, plot maps and drool over gear I don't own....yet.

Monday, August 24, 2015

I want to what?

It is exciting when you first set a massive goal. Deciding I want to thru-hike the three major trails in the USA brought some giddy excitement for me, like a kid on Christmas morning. I started pouring over websites on gear, creating "wish lists" and reading all sorts of "tips and tricks". I created countless boards on "Pinterest" and started squirreling away things I *needed* for hiking and camping the trails. I could fill a bookcase with books on Hiking and Backpacking that I want to read. Tips, tricks, "What I learned" and ideas that are geared to just women (or men for my husband, Ben).

I know that my goal is huge and right now it might seem impossible. Just a year and a half ago I was not able to dress, shower or cook for myself.

It is good to I dream big! One thing I have taken from all the "tips and tricks" I have been gathering is  you have to "Plan, plan plan". But you have to find your starting step at a time...right? So I'll start feet.

The first piece of gear I worried about was my shoes. I LOVE shoes. I own far more than any one person needs, that is for sure.  When I moved to Ohio in 2009, I only brought 2 pairs with me, leaving the rest of my beloved collection of heels, wedges and boots in a box in California. The joy I felt when my Mother shipped that box to me was so great that I unpacked my little gems and lined them up, took a photo and posted it to Facebook. However, my daily go to shoes consist of "flip flops" or Converse low tops. I exercise in my "chucks", take walks in them, spend all day at school in them and take short day hikes in them. I knew that they weren't going to cut it for what I was setting out to do, so the research began.

There are a lot of factors to consider when looking for proper hiking shoes.
High Ankle, Mid or Low?
Leather or Synthetic?
What about snow? Insulated or Vented?

Now I have a small but wide food with a high arch. Shoes are hard to find, which is why I treasure every pair I have. A lot of work has gone into selecting comfortable shoes that I like. A lot of people will tell you that in selecting a hiking boot/shoe that you need to go for function, not fashion. While that is true, I can't get past the fact that I care what my shoes look like. I have to feel like they are cute (to me not everyone else), that they "go" with outfits I might wear on the trail and they cannot make my feet look huge. That might sound silly to some people, but I'm not exactly tall (5'2") and I don't like feeling like I have clown feet. I usually wear 6.5-7 (US Women).

After an exhaustive search, reading countless reviews I found two pairs of Mid-Ankle boots I liked.

The first pair I got were the Danner Mountain Light Cascade (size 7). The website and customer service suggested sizing down to the 6.5 however my fears of toe pinching kept me in the 7. Everyone has one foot that is larger than the other, and mine is also slightly wider. There were a few a "hot spots" as I broke in the boots last winter, but my feet were warm (we have sub-zero weather in Ohio), dry and I was able to remain stable on the icy walkways.

This Danner  boot is leather, so it will form to your foot. They are adorable (I think) and remind me of the boots I wore as a kid. So when I heard Danner was bringing them back in honor of the movie Wild (which I have not yet seen) I just had to check the reviews of the new and "improved" boot! They do run a bit on the narrow side, even though the website says that they are made on a wide form. So if you have wide feet, I suggest going up that half size, just to be sure. They are not waterproof, but leather boots can be waterproofed at home. (When I do that, I will create a "how to" post.)

The second set of boots I bought were the Keen Targhee II Mid-Ankle hiking boot (size 7). These boots run wide and were a great comfortable fit pretty much from the very first moment I had them on. They didn't slide, create any friction on my heel or pinch my feet in the breaking in process. I had one "hot spot" on the side of the ball of my right foot, but I get that in every single pair of new shoes due to the arthritis being more advanced in that foot.

They recommend sizing a half size up, and I ended up doing so, but I went to my local REI store and tried these on in a 6.5, 7 and 7.5. While the 6.5 fit my feet fine, my toes on my "big" foot were touching the end and in the 7.5 my heels were slipping, which would cause blisters for sure. Ultimately I went with the 7 because they allowed my one foot to have room to swell (let's be honest, long distance hiking means your feet might swell) and my heels didn't slip or pinch.

The Keen boots didn't need any significant "breaking in" time. A few day hikes and I found them comfortable in mud and water, on pavement or gravel. I plan to get a pair of the Keen Targhee II Shoes so that I have a pair of low-top shoes as well.

So there you have it! My little review of my chosen shoes. The best advice I can offer is to do tons of research, try them on and know what you need your gear to do for you on the trail before making your choice.

Happy Hiking!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Passion for Change

Change isn't easy. It isn't always good at first. Sometimes we are dragged into it, kicking and screaming. Sometimes it comes slowly and softly, creeping in like a heavy fog. Sometimes it gets ugly before we are able to see the beauty in it.

But it always requires passion.

I've encountered many junctures of change throughout my life, and the last 2 years have forced change on me at what seems every single turn. Some changes were painful, heartbreaking even. I've healed and moved on from things, and others still linger in the back of my  mind and on my heart, but change is a process that can take time.

Which is why this little blog has changed, grown and refocused over time.

I have a passion for change. The ruffling of the feathers of the "old", the closing of a chapter of life and placing the book upon the shelf to discover a new adventure in the next one brings on emtions like nothing else. The pounding of the heart and giddy anticipation of choosing the next road and journey is both terrifying and exciting. Choices and change are crucial to our growth.

Some things remain the same, "get healthy and lose weight" are probably forever on my list. As is "rediscover me", at least for now. But some have changed, like what I see myself doing as a career, the types of friends I'm willing to keep, and the "me" I'm trying to be.

The truth is, I don't know the destination...but I'm on a road of change nonetheless. I find that I'm both nervous and excited about that unknown. I only know that when I get there, I'll know that I'm there.

If you aren't passionate about the life you live, the friends you have or the friend you are, your career, body or health, then it is time to find the passion to change it!