One Year Later

photo: my cancer recovery couch 1 year later (with still growing butt print)

photo: my cancer recovery couch 1 year later (with still growing butt print)

There's a hole in my couch / life, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my couch / life dear Liza a hole...

(adapted from children's song about a hole in a bucket that is not likely to be fixed)

One year later, I still write from the couch where I'd spent much of last year recovering from my cancer removing and reconstructive surgeries. During that time, the support of the couch arm and multiple pillows propped me up for weeks at a time as I could not actually lay down in my own bed. Despite some occasional crankiness from my back, I've now grown quite fond of the perfectly shaped hole that has developed over time by my stationary butt. Through all of that, this couch has become a significant part of my life. In both sickness and in health this couch, a sentimental gift from friends long ago has offered much character and support. It too has become a friend of comfort, servitude and a creative home for me and specifically more so in this past year. This is where I've watched TV, movies and talked on the phone to friends and family. Now back to sleeping in my bed, this couch is where I continue to come to ponder artwork and pay bills. In this spot, I have found rest and healing. It is where I come to think, to find inspiration, to write. As I sit here today, I am revisiting and reflecting on my past journey and health. 

Pre-cancer, I made short cuts towards health and wellness. Practical methods and habits that developed out of my financially compromised days post divorce when I could barely afford to eat. As a struggling artist without a lot of time then, I began to take on a primarily, but not exclusively vegetarian diet and a work-out regiment that would ultimately afford me the opportunity to re-fit into clothes that I already owned to prevent the need to purchase more. It was just that simple and efficient, but I actually began to feel better, got stronger and found a new sense of control over my life. As I continued along on a better diet and exercise practice, it did allow me the ability to get away with phenomenal cheats. I was able to eat whatever I wanted, which I'm ALMOST embarrassed to say at times may have been a pint of ice cream for dinner at 10:00pm, or a bag of chips. ("The truth will set you free?") And, though many of the foods that my 5-year old self revels in are on the list of cancer no-nos, I have no past regrets there as no one thing caused my cancer. EVERY BODY'S CANCER IS DIFFERENT and, I strongly believe that the pre-cancerous lifestyle that I had, whether riddled with too many Golden Oreos or not, is what also helped me to bounce back and recover on the back end of my cancer vacation.

While I am NOT saying that Golden Oreos and potato chips cured my cancer, the health, strength and stamina that my body did have pre-diagnosis, despite my 5-year old snack-like ways did make a difference FOR ME. Up until cancer, I had always been healthy. My mind and my body are strong and they always have been. Both were necessary players contributing to my pre- and post cancer experience. There was and still is so much that is difficult  to work through and my brain, body and psyche continue to move forward and at times to fall back. The occurrence of so much time spent on cancer and healing from it along with the, angst, emotion, efforts and residuals post cancer make you feel like there's been a hole blasted right in the middle of your life. How do you fill it and move on? How do you make up for the lost time and energy spent? Do you ever catch up? That hole still represents so much. 

There are small victories that help to encourage yet provide sobering realities. For me currently, an exciting part of my new post-cancer normal was again fitting back into my favorite pair of jeans that have been left unworn for a year. My 'reward' for that was dashed yesterday when for the first time the monthly injection that I've been getting in my belly, (and will for the next 5 years), to prevent recurrence, actually REALLY  f*#$@! hurt for the first time. Why? Apparently less belly fat for the needle to pierce results in much more pain. Now, I fully understand that in comparison to the range of scenarios that could be far worse events in any cancer story—yes, this is minor —HOWEVER, follow the macro/micro frustration... After working through all that I have in the past year with regard to diagnosis and recovery; the decisions that I was able to make for myself; the resolve to consistently arrange, travel to and wait for my monthly injection appointment, and minimizing the invasion, while working to bring my body and mind to what 'feels' much like, or as close to what is as humanly possible to my pre-cancer functioning. I was excited to be fitting back into my own clothes. An example of one small victory...only to, after 8-months of consistent relatively painless injections where  for the first time yesterday as I left oncology, I felt beat up, sore, compromised and reminded once again of how intimately cancer has woven its way into the fabric of my life. Side effects from the monthly injection and the daily pill to block the estrogen on which my cancer once fed, has resulted in a substantial spike in blood pressure, periodic hot flashes and the recent development of joint stiffness have come with this variety of post cancer door prize. And with that, I'm beginning to have a new and deeper understanding of what that will mean for me and my psyche—as I continue to move forward for the next FIVE YEARS (at least). Though different, there is more fighting yet to do. REALLY? Yep. Ok. What does that look like?

Well, managing the gap or hole that cancer has made in my life simply includes the continued imposition on my schedule and health obligations. Though doctors appointments are less than before, there are still follow-up visits, support treatments and appointments that keep my days and life at times feeling far less than my own. Some days will be easier to roll with than others, but the hits will keep on coming. There are things that I am not supposed to do, or must do differently that ultimately make me feel like the kid on the side lines fearful of not being able to get back into the game—but I'm here, strong and still grateful. Things are just different and my relationship to what once was, is also quite different. Some things are more important and others are less so. And, despite all the victories (great and small), gratitude, miracles and love, depending on the day and the moment, your head space, state of mind and the weather post cancer does cause your spirits to fall wherever they do, and there may be a little less joy. It's not easy. Regardless of the support that one may have all around, no one can really understand where you are and where you've been. As such, solitude is either the best relief or the worst isolation, so it helps to have some tools.

Overall, one year post cancer is less fun especially with regard to snacking, but with more adult food choices in tow, I am recovering quite well from cancer and surgery. My yoga practice is strong and I am grateful. Here to reflect on that tale, I would never have expected that I would've come through on the other side with my livelihood and humor in tact? Who knew that after it all just one year later, I would feel more like the same person than not? With those very real feelings, I've been thinking about what I could now tell my pre-cancer, pre-mastectomy and reconstruction surgery having self? These are 10 things that I would say:

1- You, Teri are much stronger than you think you are or could ever be.

2- Although you will feel the loss of your freedom and at times your peace of mind, heart and life as you know it to be —the Universe is golden and will send you all that you need.

3- Your yoga practice will provide so much comfort and tools to work through what is placed in front of you. Trust that for sure and NEVER doubt that, because —even if it is not how you think it should (physically) be, your practice will kick in and support you.

4- As rough as your cancer dilemma will be and feel, you will get through it, as it will pale in comparison to the loss of your sister. (Both events will forge a better you, Jaimie Somers style.)

5- Your family is better than the awesomeness that you already know them to be.

6- Your friends, the fun and gorgeous, protective lionesses are also much more fiercely loving than you already know.

7- The mistakes that you think you made with the men in your life, were not as bad as you think. They actually have helped you to develop better in your strengths. (Although, there is that one personal trainer that I wish you had given more of a chance...just saying.)

8- Your business really is just a vehicle for you to ride deeper into who you already are.

9- Keep spending more time in Nature, for that is forever your church.

10- Cry more. Be grateful more. Love - more.


Teri Gandy-Richardson