Happy New Year!

 

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called opportunity and the first chapter is New Year’s Day.” — Edith Lovejoy Pierce

I’m a couple of days late, but the sentiment stands.

Welcome, 2012. I have every hope that this year will be waaaaaaaaay better than the last. 2011 was a humdinger, and not in a good way. 2012 is bound to be better, just by default.

gocomics.com

I’m not one for making resolutions as a new year dawns, but I do like to set goals. I’ll leave things like world peace and matching-making for those pathetic Kardashian sisters to a higher power; I’m motivated, but am not a miracle worker. Without further ado, my goals for the coming year, in no apparent order:

drink more champagne (I’m sure some are wondering, is that even possible??)

improve my forehand (more depth and more angles, and quit hitting right to the person on the other side of the net. Sheesh.)

make my own salad dressing (no more Newman’s Own for me, although I want to figure out how to get  his face on my bottle of dressing)

get my kids to eat more like Piper and less like John Belushi in Animal House, John Candy, and Chris Farley

take my calcium supplement (every day, no excuses, just do it)

That’s it. A simple list.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 


The Thanksgiving list

 

It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.

I’m contemplative on this day of everything good in my life. Not gonna think about the bad stuff today. Here’s a short list of the things I’m grateful on this day of Thanksgiving.

My family. And the beach. Two of my favorite things at the same time — good stuff!

Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.

My kids. Every parent thinks their kids are amazing and wonderful and I am no different. 

As the grow I see more and more the people they are becoming, and that will always be a source of pride for me.

Youth sports. Being a part of a team, and experiencing the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat is a wonderful thing. 

Raising kids who love animals. Whether furry or slimy, cute or with a face only a mother could love, my kids adore animals and have learned compassion and sacrifice through caring for them. 

Good books. I love a good read. And I love that my kids are readers, too. My sweet mama the former English teacher would be so proud!

Natural beauty. Whether the rolling waves of Salisbury Beach, the mountains of Utah, or the public gardens in Boston, I’m grateful to have beautiful scenery to gaze at as I go about my days. 

Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true. 

Funny art and snarky humor. I hope I never outgrow my enjoyment of them. If I’m ever too old to laugh at something like what you see here, smother me with a pillow. 

Jacoby Ellsbury. Because he’s so fine. Oh, and baseball, too. I’m thankful for baseball. But mainly Jacoby. 

 

 

A legacy. The women in my family are strong and funny and kind-hearted. I hope to continue the traditions they’ve established. 

Mentors for my kids. I’m so grateful for the people in my kids’ lives who teach them, guide them, and love them.

Cocktails. Need I say more?

Great food. To soak up the alcohol.

Puppies! The more the merrier! Sometimes I think I like dogs more than people. Puppies especially.

Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!

Friends. Couldn’t have made it through the last 18 months without them. Whether buds from way back or newly connected, I’m imminently thankful for my friends. 

Cheers to Thanksgiving!


Wisdom from the DL

animalluv.com

I’ve been on the DL — disabled list — an awful lot since cancer came to town, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it, but I think I’ve gotten better at it. I’ll never be good at being a spectator in my own life, and I’ll never be one who enjoys the journey in my haste to get to the destination,but I have learned the value of time & place and that sometimes you have to be instead of do. I’ve learned to chant “It’s temporary” a thousand and one times to remind myself that while this is my life, it won’t always be like this.

Josh Beckett all wrapped up, redsox.com

Being on the DL has taught me a lot. Being forced to watch my tennis team while I waited for my body to heal enough to be able to play was one of the single best things I could have done for my game. If someone had suggested it to an able-bodied, healthy me, however, I would have laughed at the idea of sitting instead of playing. But watching helped me appreciate the game on a whole new level. I could focus on the strategies being employed, instead of being on high alert for the ball coming my way. I could study the nuances of each player’s serve, noticing how very different and personal a serve is. I noticed for the first time that everyone — even the best players on the court — makes bad shots. That was enlightening for an always-hard-on-herself player like me.

Andy Murray joins the DL. gototennis.com

With my next revision surgery scheduled for the day after tomorrow, I prepare to go on the DL yet again. I played my last match of the season last week, and we played our usual Sunday morning 4 sets yesterday. I enjoyed both immensely, knowing that I won’t get to play again for several weeks. But this time, instead of being bummed about having to sit out again, I realized something. Something important. Like my cancer “journey,” being on the DL is temporary, and instead of being anxious and impatient to get back, I find myself contemplative and introspective about my game. It’s not about playing as much as humanly possible, it’s about playing the very best tennis possible for me.

Kim Clijsters succumbs, livetennisguide.com

This time while I’m recovering, I’ll be thinking about getting back to basics: swinging through the ball; having the discipline to not hit a bad toss; moving in on a high ball; shifting to cover the middle. I won’t be thinking about whether everyone on my team is improving while I’m standing still. I won’t be thinking about all I’m missing. I’ll be thinking about all I have. I’ll channel Sheryl Crow, who may not play tennis but has the wisdom to remind us: “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Kevin Everett beat the odds, buffalospree.com

I’ll never say that I want what I’ve got in terms of having been diagnosed with cancer at age 41, in the prime of my life AND my tennis game. But I can say that I’ll smoke ’em if I got ’em. I’ll make the best of my situation, regardless of how shitty it is and no matter how many times I go back on the DL. In addition to channeling Sheryl Crow, I’ll channel the wise & wonderful Dalai Lama and repeat a thousand and one times his mantra of “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”

I’ll be finding my inner strength.


Footloose and fever-free (mostly)

As I predicted yesterday, my favorite doctor and all-around funny guy Dr S did indeed shake his head at me when I reported that I was fever-free until evening time. He shook his head, just as I expected, and said if you had a fever — even one that didn’t come until evening time — you were not fever-free. I said yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m claiming it. It counts. Even if I’m the only one who thinks so, for the record I was fever-free. So there.

He probably would have argued with me if I were still feeling like something scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe and if the redness/soreness/streakiness/swelling hadn’t tapered off considerably. I still look like I’ve been beaten mercilessly by a very large stick after last week’s surgery, but I feel a lot better. Yesterday followed the same pattern as the day before, with me being fever-free until the end of the day. Last night the fever came on even later than the day before, and I expect this means it’s pulling off a long, protracted, and overly dramatic good-bye. That’s my official medical opinion; don’t try to talk me out of this idea or change my mind. I’m operating under the assumption that my body is working it all out, and that a slight fever at the tail-end of the day is emblematic of the trauma my body endured last week and not indicative of anything infection-related.

My visit to Dr S was quite pleasant, and as usual, we scuffled a bit over a few points. The main scuffle is an ongoing one in which the good doctor claims that before The Big Dig, i.e., my DIEP surgery for reconstruction, I did not have a waist. This has always struck me as seriously funny because one thing I’ve always had, maybe even from birth, is a waist. I was curvy before it was cool. Way before J-Lo, Beyonce, and Kim Kardashian, I had a waist and a round butt, and I’ve never had skinny legs. Not that I’m a tub-o, but I’ve always had meat on my bones and muscle. I learned long ago that certain fashion trends were not for me, and I’ve lived 42 years without ever wearing a pair of skinny jeans, quite happily I might add.

So it’s always struck me as funny that my favorite surgeon said that in the course of restructuring my body during The Big Dig that he “gave me” a waist. Of course I wasted no time in correcting him, and we’ve gone round and round about this issue ever since.

That's me in the red, w my runnin' buddy, pre-cancer

I reminded him that unlike a lot of his patients, I was pretty happy with my body before cancer invaded and necessitated surgeries that would change so many aspects of my physical self. I’ve always been physically active, and can truly say I’m one of those weirdos who likes to work out. Every time we watch the Biggest Loser, I get a little envious about the contestants being able to spend hours in the gym every day. I know, weird, huh?

As much as I enjoy working out, I love, love, love to play tennis. Back in the day, pre-cancer, my favorite day was Monday because I would have a tennis lesson, then work out, then go to a tennis drill. I’d stop for a snack in between the lesson and the gym, and change clothes then have lunch before drill, then happily collapse in a heap. Super weird, right? Some of my happiest days ever were spent at Newk’s tennis camp, where we played tennis for 16 hours over the course of a too-short weekend. If you’re a tennis player but have never heard of Newk’s, get online now and make a reservation. It will be one of the best weekends of your life.

gearing up for all day on the courts

Carianne, Rebecca, Sharon, Staci, Melanie and I played hard and had a blast. We fully embraced the camp philosophy of “Eat, sleep, and breathe tennis,” and we found it true that while at Newk’s, you have “No worries, mate!”

Kim, Staci, Sharon and I were so thrilled to meet John Newcombe himself. What a kick to be at camp with him, visit with him, and watch him in action — yes, he still plays like a pro. He’s a stand-up guy who entertained us with his tennis tales and inspired us to become “rock solid.” They say his moustache is insured for $13 million, and I believe it! My favorite thing he said about his longevity in the tennis world: “I’m basically living the same, I just curtailed the stupidity.” I’d say anyone who chooses to build a first-rate tennis academy in the Texas Hill Country has indeed curtailed the stupidity. The scenery surrounding Newk’s place is gorgeous, the pros are fun and knowledgeable, and the weekend camps are the best!

Directors Chris & Sal and the other pros earned their money the weekends we visited. We played hard, sassed them, and tried to drink them under the table. They’ve got youth on their side, though, and all-day tennis while hungover would bother me more than it would them. Team Mexico and Team Australia entertained us royally, and we will be back for another hard-core weekend soon. Planning to return to Newk’s has kept me going during this long, drawn-out, and unpleasant recovery from the dreaded disease and the even-worse infection.

That’s part of why this idea of me not having a waist has been so funny. I have indeed always had one, and to settle the issue once and for all, I went to my appointment yesterday loaded with physical evidence.

Photos. Lots of photos. 

Starting way back, you can see a waist. The photo is old and the quality isn’t great, but by golly there’s a waist. 

Then there’s the wedding dress. Again, the photo is old — coming up on 19 years — but even in all-white, the least-flattering color for full-body shots, I see a waist. I also see a very sweet look on my mama’s face, and remembering her in that sparkly pink dress brings a bittersweet smile to my face. 

This green dress was my favorite piece of my work wardrobe. I still have it, and might just try to squeeze into it for my next appointment with Dr S. Part of what I loved about it was that it wrapped around the front and buttoned at the waist. Yes, at the waist!

Like a lot of women, I found myself a bit bigger after childbirth, but looky here — I’m a mom, and I have…a waist!

My final piece of evidence was this photo of Yvonne and me at our Cooking Club Christmas party before I was diagnosed in April. Our Cooking Club goes all-out for the Christmas party, and since it’s the only time all year we invite the men, sometimes it gets pretty wild. Thankfully this photo was taken before the wild rumpus began, and again, I see…a waist!

After scrutinizing my photo evidence with his highly trained eye, Dr S had a few things to say. First, the cheerleader photo was from too far back in history. Second, that I looked very young in my wedding photo (compared to the ravaged old hag I am now, I guess), and when I told him I’ve been married 18 years he asked, “To the same person?” I know, I know, Trevor deserves a medal. Third, he said Yvonne is so pretty. On that point, the good doctor and I agree (xo, my friend!).

So the long story short, after examining my evidence, Dr S concluded that he never said I didn’t have a waist, but that he “enhanced it.” Like a lot of skirmishes, one must choose whether it’s a battle worth fighting. I unloaded my ammo in this skirmish, proved to my favorite surgeon that my waist pre-dated him, and smiled in satisfaction. I will admit that I enjoy these little scuffles with Dr S. He’s a worthy opponent in the stubbornness department, but I think he bests me in the “dogged determination to prove you’re right arena.” I’ve got him in the “who can hold a grudge longer” contest, though. We’ve gone toe-to-toe more than once, and I suspect that trend will continue.

My latest scuffle with the good doctor reminds me of my favorite quote by Kim Clijsters, one of my tennis role models. The reigning champ of the US Open and the Australian Open was the first mom to win a major title since Evonne Goolagong did it in 1980. (If you thought Evonne won a title for strangest last name in tennis, you would be wrong.)

googleimages.com

Kim is a scrappy, smart player who gives it all on the court. Her “split shots” wow me every time.

googleimages.com

She talks of how losing motivates her more than winning does. She seems to like the battle as much as the result, and believes that “it’s the imperfect matches that make you great.” I think so too. But that’s not my favorite quote of hers; it’s this:

“It’s nice to win 6-1, 6-0 but there’s nothing better than when it’s 5-all in the third set and nobody knows who will prevail.”


Life is so uncertain

Lyle Lovett said it best:

Lyle P

“Look,
I understand too little too late
I realize there are things you say and do
You can never take back
But what would you be if you didn’t even try
You have to try
So after a lot of thought
I’d like to reconsider
Please
If it’s not too late
Make it a cheeseburger.”

I don’t eat cheeseburgers, or any burgers, but I love Lyle Lovett, and his clever and playful lyrics have been running through my head all day as I contemplated my latest visit to my cutie-pie oncologist. Last time I saw him, we discussed whether I need yet another surgery, to remove my ovaries. See, those little suckers pump out estrogen, and estrogen happens to be fuel for the type I cancer I had. So the theory is this: cut off the fuel, starve the cancer and ensure it has nothing with which to reconvene. Since I wasn’t physically well enough to undergo the oophorectomy because of the post-mastectomy infection, we put that surgery on hold, but in the meantime I began getting a shot of Lupron once every 3 months. Lupron essentially does the same thing as removing the ovaries, which is to shut off the supply of estrogen.

I thought the plan was set: continue the Lupron shots until I was deemed well enough to undergo the oophorectomy, which would likely be in the fall of this year. Get the kids back to school, recover from the August 17th reconstruction revision, and get rid of the ovaries. I like having a plan. I like sticking with a plan. I’m not a fan of changing the plan.

Today, Dr Cutie Pie said he didn’t think I needed to keep getting the Lupron. I’ve been getting the injections for nearly a year now, so even though I was scheduled to get one today and was planning on getting one today, he thought I was done. The plan had changed.

Granted, I had complained to him about the major side-effects of Lupron: hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat. It’s summertime in Houston. Not just regular old hot-as-Hell summertime in Houston, either, but record heat and record drought summertime. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that hot flashes and Houston summertime are a wretched combination.

Do I think the hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat are sound enough reasons to discontinue the current path of hormonal suppression? No. I haven’t murdered anyone (yet). Dr CP said there’s really not that much difference between hormonal suppression from Tamoxifen alone and suppression supplemented even further with Lupron. A year of Lupron injections seemed to be enough, in his opinion. The daily Tamoxifen will go on, though.

Disclaimer: I did not beg, whine, or persuade him to make that decision. Not like I did last summer with Dr S when trying to sway him to release me from yet another hospitalization or disconnect me from the dreaded wound vacuum, Sucky. I did not employ any such tactic with Dr CP today. He came up with the idea to cease & desist all on his own.

He also said maybe that oophorectomy isn’t necessary, either. While I’m completely in favor of eschewing yet another surgery, my gut instinct tells me to rip those ovaries out (gently, though, and with lots & lots of morphine).

Life is so uncertain. What’s the right choice? How does one make such a decision? Stop the Lupron or not? Pursue the oophorectomy or count my blessings that I won’t need another surgery? Where’s the Great and Powerful Oz to tell me what to do?

That’s the problem with cancer. One of the many problems. Big-ass decisions need to be made; life-and-death decisions. And while there’s research aplenty and resources available, there’s no clear answer. I like clear answers. And unchanged plans. Neither of which prevails in one’s “cancer journey.”

Nonetheless, we moseyed along through the rest of the check-up with the usual and quite popular assertions from Dr CP that my cancer is not coming back. I like that part. He says this at every visit, and I really like hearing it. He told me that my reconstructed chest looks fantastic, and I really like hearing that (even though I think he’s shining me on, because there is definitely some tweaking and fine-tuning that needs to be done). I still like that he says it, though, even if he’s shining me on.

We chitty-chatted about his new baby, my tennis game, and other pleasantries. He said he’s started playing tennis and is thinking about taking some lessons. When he told me he plays once a week, I told him he’ll never get better that way; it’s not often enough. He got all puffed up and said it’s enough for him because there’s such a thing as talent.

Oh. Well.

In the immortal words of Steve Martin, “Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!”

He even strutted down the hallway a bit, then turned to say something about how he’ll be ready in about 6 months to kick my butt on the tennis court. I said, maybe in about 60 years.

How on Earth do I manage to find such cocky doctors?????

We parted ways, him to daydream about beating me in tennis while I headed to the infusion room to get my port flushed. For the last time. Ever.

Yipee! That makes me very, very happy. I’ll get my port removed next month, when Dr S does my reconstruction revision. Can’t wait to bid adieu to that little guy (the port, not Dr S).

But while in the infusion room, I started to second-guess the decision to stop taking the Lupron shots. It didn’t feel right to me. The instant-gratification-girl inside me said, “Hell, yes, let’s forego the shot — that sucker hurts and leaves me bruised for weeks.” But the more-measured-approach-taking girl inside me said something doesn’t seem right with this decision. What’s the harm in continuing the Lupron therapy (besides the obvious, 20-gauge needle harm, that is, and the hot flashes and sweating like a pig in heat harm)?

Dr CP walked by a few minutes later, as I was discussing the pro’s and con’s with my patient advocate extraordinaire, Amy Hoover, and we grabbed him to say I’m not sure about the Lupron decision. He listened intently as we reviewed the pro’s and con’s and said there’s no harm in getting the shot. So I got the shot. Still not sure if it’s the right choice. No idea if it’s the right decision. My gut says yes, and my gut usually is right. However, the fact that it took 3–count ’em–3 tries to get the shot makes me wonder. The needle went in, but the Lupron wouldn’t go. Ow! 3 needle sticks with a 20-gauge needle could easily make a girl question her decision to question her decision. But, as Lyle Lovett says, “Life is so uncertain.”


The battle of the K tape

In addition to battling cancer and a nosocomial infection, I’ve also been busy battling plantar fasciitis.

mayoclinic.com

The PF preceded the BC, and while not as nasty–and certainly not life-threatening in any way–it’s a major drag. My feet hurt all the time. All. The. Time.  Maintaining my busy-body active lifestyle is pretty tricky with feet that hurt All. The. Time. It also severely limits my footwear. Cute shoes are pretty much out, as is going barefoot. I haven’t resorted to orthopedic shoes, but I’m not out of the woods yet, either. I have custom orthotics that go in my tennis shoes (don’t be jealous), and if I’m not wearing my tennies, I’m in my very dear Cole Haan flip flops or my not-s0-cute but cushy crocs flip flops. Thank goodness I don’t work in an office that requires closed-toe, pinchy shoes. I’d have to quit or get fired. Probably option #2.

I’ve seen a foot doctor, I’ve tried herbal remedies, I’ve taken copious amounts of RX anti-inflammatories, I’ve iced and elevated and slept in a splint. I had high hopes that while recovering from The Big Dig and taking several months off from tennis and most of my daily activities beyond laying in bed bemoaning my pitiful state would provide some respite from the foot problems that plague me. Alas, it did not. In fact, having foot pain while lying in bed doing none of the active things I want to do gave me more about which to bemoan. 

My tennis buddy and dog-spoiler extraordinaire Christy had the answer to my problems. Dr Scott Kelly of the Airrosti Clinic. I need another doctor in my life about as much as Lindsey Lohan needs another bad-influence friend. The thought of adding yet another doctor my circle of docs did not appeal to me one little bit, but desperate times….

The Airrosti Clinic uses an intense treatment model that involves some serious hands-on time with the doc. And when I say hands-on, I mean he’s gonna put his hands on your tenderest injured spot and mangle the hell out of it. For real.

airrosti.com

See, fascia is connective tissue that covers most of our body. It covers the different muscles, blood vessels and nerves “much like plastic wrap holds the contents of a sandwich together,” as it was explained to me. Problem with fascia is it’s everywhere, so your chance of injuring it is great, and it has little or no blood supply, so your chance of healing said injury is not great.

That’s where the laying of hands comes in. Dr Kelly gets his long, strong, mean hands into the damaged fascia and starts kneading it like bread. Then stretching it like taffy. Then punching it like a speed bag. All the while laughing maniacally at the moans, cries, screams and curse words coming from the patient. (Ok, he doesn’t really laugh maniacally but he does seem to enjoy his work very much, and when I showed him the line of bruises on my calf after his first hands-on treatment he smiled with obvious pride and said that’s his signature, and if he could sign his name in bruises, he would. That’s one autograph I don’t really need but apparently am gonna get. Repeatedly.)

When I met him last week, he grabbed ahold of my foot and said he could diagnose me in 30 seconds. I said I didn’t realize this was like speed-dating. He rolled his eyes, then told me that he could cure my PF in 3 treatments. I asked if he could also name that tune in one note. Why oh why don’t any of these doctors get my humor??

As skeptical as I was, I have to say that after the mangling, kneading, stretching, punching, and cussing, I could tell a difference. It took a while for the shock and trauma to subside, but once it did, I could tell that we were getting somewhere. The day after my first treatment, I got out of bed and walked barefoot on the tile without pain — something I hadn’t done in at least a year.

There’s homework, of course, that involves standing on a golf ball and rolling the ball all over the bottom of my feet, paying special attention to and lingering on the really tender spots. There are also a couple of exercises involving a 36-inch by 6-inch foam roller.

And then there’s the K tape

Kinesio tape. In every color of the rainbow, according to the image on ktape.com. The website is pretty glowing about this product:

“It’s designed for Professional athletes, Olympians, and active people world-wide who take health & fitness seriously and who refuse to stop training, playing, or living life active and free. The design is minimalist, the results are magic.”

That’s me: I refuse to stop training playing, or living life active and free. Bring on the magic!

I’d had K tape before, when I was treating my PF myself, and again when I started seeing my lovely lymphedema specialist, Tammy. She’s a certified K tape master. She’s been using K tape on my post-mastectomy chest and now on my post-reconstruction belly. I’m a believer in the magic of K tape. As part of the scar-tissue-management on my 17-inch-long incision on my belly, Tammy puts a couple of strips of K tape and we wait for the magic happen.

So when Dr Kelly wanted to tape my feet after my first treatment and asked if I’d ever heard of it, I said as a matter of fact, I have some on my belly right now. We hadn’t been through the whole song & dance about the BC business; I was hoping to keep the BC beast out of the sports medicine arena. Well, the elephant was certainly in the room when I mentioned I had K tape on my belly. In for a penny, in for a pound, and I had to explain. 

Yes, those are bruises just above the shorter piece of tape. If you’re fluent in the language of torture, you can probably tell that that’s how Dr K signs his name.

Dr Kelly seems to be a bit competitive, and wanted to tape me up real nice so that Tammy, the other K tape master, would approve. She did. And then she took it a step further. I guess she’s a bit competitive, too.

Instead of just using a couple of strips on the scar tissue on my belly, Tammy used a new technique she’d just learned at a K tape workshop. Could this be Turf Wars part deux? 

I can’t wait to show this to Dr Kelly. The battle of the K tape is on!

I hope neither he nor Tammy sees this K tape image and gets any big ideas:

googleimages.com

I’m ok with the crazy blue racing stripes on my legs & feet, and with the Frankenstein pink on my belly and over my new belly button, but I’m drawing the line at a pink ribbon made from K tape. No thanks!


Tennis time

Today’s the day, people.

I’m paying a call on my true love. Nope, this isn’t a tell-all expose a la Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s tennis.

Finally.

I’ve been cleared by my favorite doc to start playing again. To ease back into it and with specific instructions to stop in my tracks if I feel even a tiny pull in my 17-inch-long belly incision. That super-long, super-bad incision is healing up quite nicely, and it’s my job to guard it and baby it.

When I got the green light from my favorite surgeon, I asked his nurse  to please put a note in my file and have him sign it to that effect. A permission slip of sorts, so that when I see him again in a couple of weeks and mention tennis, he doesn’t forget he’d given me the go-ahead. The last thing that man and I need is another argument. Although, it has been a while since we had one….

With the tennis ban being lifted, I realized that I haven’t so much as picked up a racquet since The Big Dig, nearly 3 months ago. In fact, I had to dig around in the garage for my tennis bag. Sadly, it had been consigned to the garage instead of riding shotgun like normal, and it hung on a hook, quite forlornly, I might add, all this time. Over the course of almost 3 months, things like stadium seats and insulated cooler bags were hung in front of my beloved bag, and it took on the role of wallflower instead of constant companion. I had to take my racquet out, just for a sec, and hold it in my hand. Just like old times. 

Today’s return isn’t full of the fanfare the met my return to the court last fall, after finally triumphing over the God-awful post-mastectomy infection and all its myriad complications. You loyal readers know the story so I won’t bore you with the details yet again, but suffice to say that the bilateral mastectomy would have been enough, but the nosocomial infection that required 3 more surgeries, nearly a month in the hospital, and endless antibiotics was really enough.

No fanfare, because while returning to tennis after the mastectomy and infection mess was a lot, but it’s easy compared to recovering from the DIEP surgery. Good thing today is just a 1-hour drill, which is the perfect venue for me to see if I remember how to swing that racquet. I’m not giddy with excitement like I was last fall, because the cautious side of me is bracing for disappointment. For this return to not quite work out for me. Although I’ve been cleared, there’s no guarantee that my body is on the same schedule as my heart & mind, and I may well be met with resistance from the battle-weary bod.

See, this is one of the unseen side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Even after getting through all the hard stuff–comprehending the devastating news of diagnosis, all the gut-wrenching decisions, the surgeries & hospitalizations, the never-ending antibiotics & their grueling side effects, the cornucopia of doctors’ appointments, the worry & fear & fatigue–I’m still shell-shocked enough to automatically look for disaster. Although the 267 days of oral antibiotics worked and my infection is cured, there’s still a little part of me that assumes the worst. I can’t even remember the last time my skin opened up to let infected fluid escape, yet I still think I feel it a couple of times a week. It’s PTSD for patients.

So my job today is to say screw the PTSD. Can the shell-shocked tendencies. Bust right through the doubt. Ignore the niggling little voice that asks if I’m sure I want to do this.

Hell yes, I want to do this. More than anything else, tennis to mean means I’ve healed. More than being able to go about my busy little life, more than getting back into the gym, more than being able to lift my arms enough and twist my core enough to dress myself. Tennis means I did it. It’s over.

My friend who also battled the breast cancer beast has dusted off her racquet and returned to the game we both love. While I’m unhappy with the unfinished parts of my reconstruction and she’s unhappy with her not-yet-grown-back-in hair, we’re getting back in the game.

I’m going to take the advice of tennis legend Billie Jean King in my post-cancer tennis strategy:

“Ladies, here’s a hint.  If you’re up against a girl with big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys.  That’s the hardest shot for the well-endowed.”

My friend and I are both differently-endowed than we were before breast cancer came to call, but we survived that unwelcome visit and are ready to tear it up on the court. Even if we both get our asses handed to us in match play, I suspect we’ll both be smiling. Happy to be there, happy to have a racquet in hand, happy to be alive.