Swaying palms

Today in yoga class, my instructor had us do the Swaying Palm Tree pose. It’s not one of my favorites because it’s not very challenging for me, but I appreciate what it brings to the table: it strengthens joints; stretches ligaments, side abdominal muscles, back and spine; improves balance; and increases mental focus.

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My instructor usually has something to say about each pose, and often mentions during the Swaying Palms pose that we can learn to sway and bend without being broken. Today she said she wanted to focus on forgiveness. Uh oh. That’s something I’m not so great at. Once I get mad, I stay mad — sometimes for years. I have been unforgiving about a certain issue with certain people for a long time, and thanks to my know-it-all yoga instructor, it’s time to change that.

Ms Know-It-All said that when we don’t forgive or sway or bend, we can become brittle and hard, and that we can sway without becoming uprooted and we can bend without foregoing our principles. Great. I can’t argue with that. It became clear that I needed to pay attention. I needed to listen to what the universe was telling me, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear. One of my favorite things about yoga is that it makes me think about things I don’t want to think about and it makes me hear things I don’t want to hear. The Bhagavad Gita said, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”

I definitely did not want to think about forgiveness today, but the yoga gods had other ideas.

My instructor cautioned us againstthinking that forgiveness means forgetting. She said that few people can go from suffering an injustice, whatever that may be, to forgiving and forgetting easily. It’s a process. A journey. A journey through the self, in my case.

She then asked us to consider the price we pay for holding a grudge, for refusing to forgive.

It’s big. Holding a grudge can cause stress and toxins to accumulate in our bodies. It can raise blood pressure, impair the immune system, encourage stress hormones, and increase inflammation. It can also contribute to anxiety and depression.

The last thing I need is more stress, toxins, and inflammation in my life. Perhaps it’s time.

Time to let go of the anger and injustice. Time to move away from heartache and toward happiness.

Noted ethicist and theologian Lewis B. Smedes was an expert on forgiveness. He asked, “Will we let our pain hang on to our hearts where it will eat away our joy?” He’s the expert, and according to him, we don’t need to excuse the wrong, or even stop feeling angry about it, to forgive the wrongdoer. We just need to change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.

Like the Buddha said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  There are plenty of things I like to drink; poison is not one of them. I’m setting it aside and beginning the process.

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Twinnies

As if one case of breast cancer isn’t enough, how about two cases?

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Identical twin sisters Kelly McCarthy and Kristen Maurer from Indiana share a lot of things — including breast cancer. The 34-year-old sisters saw first-hand how devastating cancer is when their mother died from colon cancer last year. Like so many struck by breast cancer, the sisters had no family history of the disease.

Apparently it’s not all that unusual, though, for identical twins to develop the same cancer, because they have the exact same genetic makeup. In addition, twins also have a mirror effect, with one twin getting cancer in one breast, and the other twin getting it in the other breast. McCarthy and Maurer were no different in this regard.

Their treatment was similarly influenced by each other: McCarthy was diagnosed first, with triple-negative breast cancer in her right breast, while 9 months pregnant. A week later, her baby was born, and shortly thereafter she started chemo & radiation, then had a mastectomy. Because of her sister’s diagnosis, Maurer got tested and found early-stage cancer in her left breast and had a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders and then implants.

McCarthy’s reconstruction was a bit different: instead of going the more common route of tissue expanders  to implant, she decided on a second mastectomy on the “unaffected” breast and flap reconstruction of both breasts. The problem was, she didn’t have enough fat & tissue to create two new breasts. I had a similar experience, sorta. Well, minus the identical twin sister, but sorta. I had extra fat before my DIEP reconstruction, aka The Big Dig, just not enough in my belly, the main harvesting site for DIEP surgery. Instead of having a twin sister donate her excess fat, I had to gain weight so that there would be enough excess in my belly. I went on the All-Butter-Lots-of-Cheese-Bottomless-Beer-Mug diet and packed on 12 pounds. Sadly, not all of it went to my belly (the rest I happen to be sitting upon as I type).

The worst part of the forced weight gain? No, it’s not the leftover junk in my trunk or the persistent craving for beer. It was the “Grab the Fat” game I had to play, more than once, with my plastic surgeons to determine whether my fat was fatty enough. Egads, I’d almost forgotten about the “Grab the Fat” game. I wrote about in this post,

“I thought I’d plumbed the depths of humiliation with the ‘grab the fat’ game we played more than once in preparation for reconstruction. In this game, the doc asked me to drop my drawers so he could grab my belly fat and determine if it was plump enough and plentiful enough to construct a new set of knockers. In a modified game of Twister, he had me sit, stand, and lean over to see just how much fat I had around my middle. Not once, but twice.

Humiliating doesn’t quite cover it.

But today, it was total humiliation, all humiliation all the time. I was basically splayed out like a deboned chicken on the exam table while he searched and plotted. Ladies and gents, just imagine your least favorite body parts being put under the microscope so to speak. Just consider for a moment being asked to stand up, sit down, and contort your body in the absolute least-flattering ways so that the softest, flabbiest, most-despised parts of your body are on full display. And then have those parts analyzed and calculated to determine just how fatty they are. We go to such lengths to de-emphasize these body parts, yet mine were being trotted out like the prize-winning hog at the state fair.”

McCarthy was fortunate enough to skip the “Grab the Fat” portion of the DIEP journey, but her sister probably endured it, because she donated her belly fat & tissue so that her twin could get reconstruction via DIEP surgery.  Maurer underwent abdominal surgery — not a tummy tuck, people, because there’s no free lunch in breast cancer  — to harvest the goods for her sister’s other breast.

How awesome is that??

Like most twins, McCarthy and Maurer share a close bond. But now, McCarthy said, “I feel closer. Her tissue is over my heart.”


But did it really save her life?

Amy Robach, an anchor on Good Morning America, underwent a bilateral mastectomy today because she was diagnosed with breast cancer following a live, on-air mammogram last month. She credits that mammogram with saving her life.

Robach is a 40-year-old  mother who lives an active, healthy lifestyle and has no family history of breast cancer. Her diagnosis came as a tremendous shock because she had no symptoms or reason to think she was anything other than the picture of health. She wants to fight her cancer as aggressively as possible. I know exactly how she feels. I too was 40 years old when I was diagnosed. My kids were 8 and 10. I lead an active, healthy lifestyle. I opted for a “scorched Earth” attack on my cancer.

I’m in no way challenging her decisions or judging her motivations, because hers are the same mine were. At the time I was diagnosed, my one and only goal was to rid my body of the cancer so that I could spare my kids the horror of watching their mom die before her time. I was willing to take the most aggressive road in exchange for a cancer-free life.

What I am challenging, however, is the rampant, panacea-esque assumption that routine mammograms save lives. Everyone loves a “feel good” story, and no cause stirs up quite as much “feel good” stuff as breast cancer. Wrapped in a pink ribbon, glitzed and glammed to high heaven and jacked-up as feminine and pretty, breast cancer is the cancer. All the cool celebrities are getting it, and everyone loves to hear that more “awareness” and more screenings mean more lives saved. We hear much of celebs being brave in the face of a breast cancer diagnosis, yet we learn little of whether their cancer warranted the treatment they chose.

While the “mammograms save lives” story makes people feel good and likely sells a whole lot of airtime, it’s not exactly true. But we want to believe it, despite scientific evidence telling us otherwise. While the evidence is sound, how many women opt out of a mammogram because they know that the routine screening has little to no impact on mortality? Conversely, how many women are diagnosed with relatively harmless breast cancer yet choose the most aggressive treatment? I know one such woman, for she is me. I am her. I knew my form of breast cancer was not terribly threatening, and I was provided all the stats & facts & figures and options to support that. Yet my gut instinct was to scorch that Earth.

A 2012 New England Journal of Medicine study looked into whether screening mammograms has had an impact on breast cancer mortality. After culling through 30 years of statistics, the conclusion: screening mammograms increase the cases of early-stage breast cancers that are detected, but that detection of advanced breast cancers has not changed.

Because the number of cases of advanced-stage breast cancer has not changed in 30 years of routine screenings, researchers concluded that mammograms are not successful in saving lives. Studies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, and Australia have come to the same conclusion.  One thing that has changed during the last 3 decades: increased diagnoses and surgeries.

This Nautilus article echoes the 2012 NEJM study. About Robach’s on-air mammo, author Amos Zeeburg says:

“The [Good Morning America] episode was presented as a triumph of medical science, an even more compelling push to get tested: Robach had no idea she was in grave danger, the screen had saved her life, and it might do the same for any woman watching. [Robach said] ‘If I got the mammogram on air, and if it saved one life, then it’s all worth it. It never occurred to me that life would be mine.’ It’s an inspiring conclusion, and it certainly makes for great TV, but the show’s lesson about screening mammograms is highly misleading. In a world of limited medical resources, it may even be harmful.”

So what’s a woman to do? Our doctors recommend a baseline mammogram annually starting at age 40. Celebs implore us to get our mammograms. Every October there’s enough “awareness” to scare the bejeezus out of a normally rational woman. Every time we turn around, someone else we know — in real life or from TV — is diagnosed with breast cancer, and everyone believes that early detection saves lives.

Nautilus author Zeeburg says: “The big problem with screening is that it tends to find cancers that are not very dangerous—’indolent’ ones that don’t grow quickly, will never metastasize to other organs, and might even go away on their own—while missing the truly deadly ones, which grow and spread too fast to get caught in any case. ”

Noted breast cancer docs agree.

Dr Susan Love said, “I really don’t think we should be routinely screening women under 50. There’s no data showing it works.”

And for women younger than 50 who follow the rules and get a yearly mammogram, Dr Love says “It’s radiation without much benefit.” She notes that most European countries recommend screening every other year, and their breast cancer mortality rates are no higher than ours.

Dr Silvia Formenti, head of radiation oncology at NYU’s  Langone Medical Center said the emphasis on mammograms for everyone might have given the public the impression that screening could prevent cancer. “It’s a giant misconception,” she said. Furthermore, she’s not a fan of overtreating indolent cancers but worries about the diagnoses “turn them into cancer patients and erodes their peace of mind forever. We take away the innocence of being healthy and not having to worry about cancer. The psychological cost of becoming a cancer patient is underrated.”

Amen, sister.

But all these dissenting voices don’t clear up the question women face regarding mammograms. After my OB-GYN felt a teeny-tiny lump, she sent me for a diagnostic mammogram, which led to a couple of biopsies and then diagnosis. My cancer was determined to be indolent, yet I still chose the scorched-Earth option. Maybe I wouldn’t have reacted as surely and as strongly had I not watched my mom die of cancer and if I didn’t feel a gigantic, never-ending void in my life after she died. But how much does the constant barrage we receive about early detection saving lives contribute to such sure and strong decisions about our course of treatment? I went into my bilateral mastectomy eyes wide open and perhaps too well-informed about what I was getting myself into (absent the post-mastectomy infection that ended up being waaaaaay more perilous than the actual cancer). I went in feeling 100 percent certain about my decision. Yet now I wonder: what would have been the risk of just watching that teeny-tiny lump and seeing what, if anything, changed from year to year? How risky is it to live with a teeny-tiny lump of indolent breast cancer for years?

How many of us would be willing to play those odds if we weren’t barraged with messages about mammograms saving lives?

I don’t know the answer. I can’t say if I would have changed anything about my scorched-Earth policy; hindsight is perfect, after all. But I do wonder how much the “early detection” and “mammograms save lives” rhetoric contributes to the decisions we do make when facing down the pink beast.

I think Zeeburg says it best: “The surprising inefficiency of mammograms doesn’t mean they need to end, but that they should be reasonably evaluated, not treated as our divine shield against cancer, administered to everyone with breasts, and paired unquestioningly with the most aggressive treatments available.”


Screw you, Lulu

Lululemon and founder Chip Wilson can suck it.

Instead of the peace and zen that should emanate from a yoga-clothing supplier, Wilson is spewing hate and showing his ignorance. If his company’s damn clothes weren’t so damn overpriced, I’d be tempted to burn my Lulu outfits in the front yard.

I will admit I like Lulu’s clothes, despite the crazy-high prices: they’re cute, different, and stylish (says the woman who started playing tennis because she liked the outfits). They’re made from fabrics that stand up to a real workout (except for that one batch of see-through yoga pants, that is).

In attempting to explain the problem with the recalled yoga pants, Wilson created a couple of new yoga poses, which I don’t expect to see in my yoga class: Foot In Mouth and Flaming Douchebag. During an interview with Bloomberg TV, instead of taking responsibility for the faulty pants, Wilson blamed the women who wear them — and shell out $98 for each pair — for being too fat.

Yes, you read that right.

Wilson blames his customer base for being too fat.

“Some women’s bodies just don’t work for it.” I’m assuming the “it” he so uneloquently refers to is the pants. I would expect someone with a net worth of nearly $3 billion to be a bit more articulate, but I am picky that way.

When  pressed  to elaborate on the women’s bodies that “just don’t work,” Wilson added, “They don’t work for some women’s bodies. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time.”

What???

In an effort to clarify this insane suggestion, the Bloomberg TV reporter asked Wilson if Lululemon yoga pants are something that every woman, regardless of size, can wear. He said, “I think they can, I just think it’s how you use them.”

Wait — how we use them? How we use the yoga pants? Maybe like, for yoga?

The yoga pants are see-through — even though they cost 100 clams a pair — and this jackass is blaming the customer? And trying to throw up a loophole that questions how we might “use” yoga pants? Come on, man.

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It gets better. Or worse, actually.

As part of his raving lunacy, Wilson offered this:

“Breast cancer also came into prominence in the 1990s. Ultimately,  I suggest this was due to the number of cigarette-smoking power women who were on the pill (initial concentrations of hormones in the pill were very high) and taking on the stress previously left to men in the working world.”

What???

While he clearly has a history of blaming the victim, Wilson can’t be serious about the causes of breast cancer. I can’t get past his choice of words describing breast cancer as something that “came into prominence.” Sadly, breast cancer is not like a desperate celebrity seeking its 15 minutes of fame; it’s here for the long haul. And it’s been around a lot longer than the 1990s. Idiot.

On the Lululemon blog, Wilson wrote a post elaborating his ass-hatty ideas and blathering on in moronic fashion, then summarizes by dropping this little gem: “lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time.  lululemon saw the opportunity to make the best technologically advanced components for [this] market in the 1990s.”

Sooooo, this genius created Lululemon because of women’s education, breast cancer, sports/fitness, and wanting to look pretty? Like a perfect storm, these mythical female elements of the universe converged to form a $10 billion company, and Wilson has women — fat, power-hungry, cigarette-smoking, birth-control-popping, breast-cancer having, vain women — to thank for his fame & fortune. Except, instead of thanking us, he somehow manages to blame and alienate us.

Screw you, Lululemon. I’m going to the Athleta store; I need some new yoga pants.


Lou

My friend David sent me this passage from Laurie Anderson, upon her husband Lou Reed’s death:
“I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love. At the moment, I have only the greatest happiness and I am so proud of the way he lived and died, of his incredible power and grace.
I’m sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives.”
“Life — so beautiful, painful and dazzling.”
While I wish the death experience were so lovely and peaceful for everyone, I know first-hand that it is not. Nonetheless, I am glad it was lovely and peaceful for Lou Reed and that Laurie Anderson was kind enough to share that experience with us. Powerful words and moving sentiment to carry into the weekend.
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