Zumba – a Form of Mindfulness

Mindfulness

I took a Zumba class. Yes, that’s right, Zumba. I had dismissed the notion of this class before, thinking only seniors took this class, or people who don’t take real aerobic classes, and even thinking this is for women who just want to do silly dance movements. I was in the group that took cycling classes, weight lifting classes, and yoga. We worked our muscle groups, we got breathless, we strengthened our pecs.  One day I went to get a drink from the fountain. The studio door was open and I heard fun, lively music. I looked inside. Hmmmpf, that could be interesting.

And there I was later that week in a sea of all ages of adults, both sexes, and a range of skill. I was at the low end. I could barely keep up with the Samba steps, the hip-hop pelvic thrusts, the Mambo movements and the pony. I love to dance! But this class put me in my place. That class is now on my desk calendar and entered in my phone as a weekly event, to avoid scheduling appointments that conflict with the class time. After each song, some people laughed or clapped or let out a whoo-hoo. There was so much positive energy. I love it, I need it.

There is so much talk and concern related to mindfulness. The roots lie in Buddhist meditation, and yet these days it’s a popular concept.  Just like acai berries and echinacea and vitamin C, these days the catch word and catch-all remedy is mindfulness.  The idea of being aware, of being focused on using active attention to the present moment. The mental energy open, the benefits endless.

In Zumba, the class time is exactly 55 minutes. There is no time to goof off. I cannot let my mind wander during class. I need to position myself right behind the instructor. As she gets the music going and adjusts her mic I apologize to my neighbors: sorry, I am such a spaz, just want you to know! They smile politely in return, their feet have started to tap, their hips already wiggling. I’m not skilled enough to look at the mirror’s reflection and translate for my left and right feet. I watch the instructor’s feet like they are highway signs announcing upcoming exits. I don’t want to miss it!  I think some people are naturally inclined to follow choreography, to turn off their thoughts, to take in visually the movements and replicate. I lack that gene. In Zumba, I am moving. I am operating my limbs. I am not actively attending, I am clumsily receiving.

We take two steps to the right, then one to the left, thrust out our chests and swivel our hips. Repeat! I quickly stole a peek at myself in the mirror.  I smiled back, yes I am having fun. I look around. The instructor has moved on.  The class is sashaying towards the front. Ooops! Sorry, I was just lost in a thought.

 

I Have Breast Cancer

I had it. You have it. Breast Cancer sucks.

I looked at my phone wondering why she is calling me. Our kids no longer attend the same school. We are at most casual acquaintances. I answer a little hesitantly. She identifies herself and pauses. Then she continued: I had a mammogram, and I, well I heard that you too, uh….um. I have what you had, I have DCIS in my breast. I have breast cancer.”  Her voice is trembling.  The former social worker in me surfaces. I ask direct questions so that she can regain composure:

When was your mammogram, where did you have it done? When is your next appointment? With whom? Have you met with a surgeon yet?

She answered each question. She took a deep breath.

I said, “I’m so sorry. I am sorry this is happening to you. You must be overwhelmed. It’s strange to hear the words breast cancer.”

She agreed and added, “Why is this happening to me?”

I wonder that too, every day. And yet it is happening. My friend summarized it as: we all got married, we all started having kids, our kids started school, then sports, and now we’re at the age where some of us are getting breast cancer diagnoses.

Can we chalk it up to a developmental milestone?

After my caller went through her series of appointments, I gave a brief version of my summer. My June of being diagnosed and agonizing over treatment options, my July of surgery and recovery, and then August finally ending my summer of 2016. The kids returned to school. Labor Day is here. I am ready for the summer to be over, for my recovery time to be completed, for this ordeal to be ending.

I hope I was supportive. I hope I was educational and helpful. I hope she felt heard.

It’s strange to hear the oncologist say to me: come back in three months for your follow-up. It’s strange to have conversations with people about having breast cancer. It’s strange to experience a thrill over being contacted, being someone who has gone through something and can offer guidance.

She agreed, “It is strange to now be seeing an oncologist.”

My follow up is at the end of October. A ways off. Strange how much can happen in a few months.

 

Raising Teens in 2016

Raising Teens

We had been hearing her name a lot over the course of a few weeks: Maria is traveling to Canada for Spring Break. Oh, Maria is so tired from the traveling. Maria loves pancakes. Yea, Maria really enjoyed that movie too.

That sort of talk from my fourteen year old. Every weekend he sleeps in each morning till we notice the late hour and call out. He eats breakfast at 11A and lunch at 3P. I guess it didn’t bother me so much. He was bringing home good grades from honors classes. He’s still going to two hour sports practices each week. I wished he would be more social with friends face to face. During this school year, we noticed a dramatic increase in gaming online with a group of people. They chit chat about their lives, tease each other, tell jokes. But we don’t know these kids, their families, the locations of their homes. This year, my son has spent less time inviting friends over.

One day, he took a shower, came running down the steps and announced he was meeting up with friends at the school. He hopped on his bike and said he’d be back in a few hours. This was before 10a on a Saturday. Who are these people? I later found out SHE had texted him with the invite.

In the weeks that followed, he seemed in a stable, content mood. He settled into a routine every afternoon after school of having a snack while texting on his phone. He reported a bunch of kids were eating their lunches in the science teacher’s room these days, “It’s fun, a nice change from the cafeteria.”  So I started.Raising teens

I guess I was curious and not satisfied with the limited information I was getting verbally from him. I guess I wanted to assess the language used in the texting. And I just wanted to make sure they were not getting carried away with exchanging photos of a certain nature. I read the news, too. I was aware of what was happening in the world of teens and various forms of social media.

Their conversations were sweet — asking about homework, commenting on something that had happened in a shared class, a question about the other’s home life. I peeked in on these exchanges every few days. I felt guilty but justified. My friend supported me, telling me that she too had read her daughter’s phone messages. “So it’s not like the tv movie mom finding the diary under the mattress and then ruining their trust?”  Not in this day and age! Was her response. We need to know what our kids are doing, saying and sending each other.

The end of the year there was a field trip and a dance. There appeared to have been some events that occurred on the bus ride back to the school as well as the dance the following day. She inquired about his reaction on the bus. He explained in detail. Seemed to make sense to me that he didn’t feel like answering a truth or dare question from her friend.

“But why?” she persisted in her questioning. But why, what? I wondered. He didn’t feel like answering.

And later, my son wrote that he was upset, “Could you please let me know things are ok, I need to hear from you this weekend.” I ached inside for him. What happened? Could she write back soon to relieve the suspense?!

That week, he seemed more sullen.  I tried to be the cool, available mom. I waited patiently a few days, then asked, “Hey, I haven’t heard (her) name is a while, anything happening?”

My son replied, “Oh, not anymore. There were some things that happened at the dance. I thought she wanted to dance, then I couldn’t find her. Then I heard she was looking for me. It was messed up. I can’t really deal. I don’t know what she wants. It’s no biggie. We’re still friends.”

I was privately sad and proud of him. He seemed to really enjoy the flirting and the fun. But I respect that he didn’t have the interest for ambivalence.

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Parenting and Sports

Parenting and Sports

Reflection – Sunday

I’m sitting here with a chilled Warsteiner, drinking straight from the bottle thinking about this past week. I’m listening to Mumford & Sons’ Babel.

My eldest went to sleep away ultimate (frisbee) camp this past week. Yup, it was expensive. It was also the only away from home experience for him this summer. Plus, I want to encourage him to remain in sports.parenting and sports

We got a few text messages the first two nights– complaints of how it was not fun, the opposite of what Mom had said it would be, and that it was demoralizing. He wrote he was hating it. My son admitted to feeling troubled over being at the bottom of the heap in terms of skill. I cringe and laugh every time I get blamed for something. How would I possibly know what sleep away ultimate camp is like?  From my years of running track and playing on the tennis team at my small town public high school?!

Where I grew up and when I was growing up, most of us played at the rec level. We did not have tryouts. We did not have club. There were a handful of kids whose parents invested in private lessons. There was a country club in our town and a tennis club in the next one over. But a week long camp at a college where he slept in a dorm room? I felt thrilled that we could give him this opportunity.

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Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Part III

DCIS diagnosis. Mastectomy and Reconstruction.  To tell or not to tell.  When do we share important information. And how do we know with whom to share? I know of someone in my social circle who openly revealed on Facebook her week by week experiences of chemotherapy. BTW, she is doing great. I asked my hubby, “Why would you do that?” A perfectly natural question coming from someone who does not readily solicit support from others. He answered, “To get support!”recovery from mastectomy and reconstruction

I’m thinking of my uncle, childhood piano teacher, high school classmates, and acquaintances from our kids sports teams as my people on FB. Would I want them all to know of my diagnosis? I’m not that type, I decided. My diagnosis of DCIS is to me like having a concerning mole on your upper arm. The dermatologist says, “I don’t like the look of that. I’m going to recommend removing it and sending the tissue to the lab for analysis. Let’s get you in sooner rather than later.”

My oncology surgeon said to me, “Let’s take care of this over the summer.” Shortly after the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of DCIS in early June, I explored treatment options. I decided on a single mastectomy. My surgeon said, “Just a bump in the road this summer.” The surgeon’s assistant coordinated with the plastic surgeon for immediate reconstruction. She handed me a card: July 1st.

Now to the root of the issue. It’s interesting how little information is easily accessible on the web regarding post-mastectomy recovery. I wanted answers to my questions; I surfed the web, searching. Weeks later I came across this amazing personal story/website:

www.dcismystory.com 

Welcome

As part of my recovery, I feel the need to share my experience:

I checked into the hospital at 8:30A for an 11:30 scheduled surgery time. I went through a few procedures before surgery. I woke up in the afternoon in the recovery area. I was transferred to a private room by late afternoon. I had a soda, then juice, then soup and crackers over the course of 10 hours. I was starving the next morning, I could not wait to order a full blown breakfast meal.

In the hospital the RN staff took my vitals and assisted me in using the bathroom. In the hospital I phoned in my meal orders. In the hospital I pushed buttons to move my bed and to change the channels of the tv. The nurse discussed the drains and caring for them. A physical therapist showed me arm exercises to do ASAP to condition and encourage range of movement. My surgeon visited me and prescribed medications. The plastic surgeon warned me to avoid the raised arms touchdown motion. Yea, no problem the Steelers are not on tv at this time. I felt comfortable having everything and everyone within reach.  I asked if I could stay for lunch. Yes, you can order the hospital lunch and then it’s time to leave. I was a little nervous about returning home. The medical staff was so helpful with assisting, demonstrating, and then asking: Is that clear? The recovery process I was about to experience in my home stretched out ahead – a murky fog.

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DCIS Treatment Options

DCIS Treatment Options 

Part II

Ever since I got the voicemail. I feel different — my outlook is different, I breathe differently.  My doctor’s nurse left a message informing me to come in the following morning with my spouse to discuss the findings of the biopsy. We knew this meant the cells are not benign.

Everything was different now. I had been struggling with identity issues related to being a stay at home parent and unemployed. I had been feeling depressed. I had been feeling concerned about my life goals. Now, I’m not yearning for anything. I’ve moved away from a feeling of wanting to take inventory, wanting to move forward, wanting to accomplish.  I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel that would be indulgent– to want. I feel a strange calmness.

After I heard the message, I went through something. Nothing amazing or poetic, I didn’t see a different spectrum of lights or an amazing palette of colors or hear angels trumpeting. I just went through some typical Kuebler-Ross stages on and off, quickly, and out of order. I blamed myself for increasing my alcohol intake to a daily drink in the past year. I blamed myself for not running weekly and feeling lazy about working out. I felt anger about worrying so much over family members, so much that I had developed cancerous cells. I hoped and prayed that if my prognosis is good I would make significant changes to my diet and lifestyle. I got weepy looking around the schoolyard at dismissal time. I hoped to have many years of waiting for my 6 year old to be released by her teacher, to watch her classmates disperse to the field, parents, and play structure. I didn’t care about finding employment or my identity again. I knew what I wanted: to live and to be with my kids. It was a long night.

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Mammogram Results

I had my annual mammogram done mid-May. I started going in for yearly ones in my late 30s; I’ve done the routine many times now. Yes, I know you will call me if there are concerns.

I got the call two days later. The radiologist saw something that was apparently not visible in the  year before– she had compared the films. I was instructed to come in for a more detailed mammogram. I returned later that week. This time the focus was on my right breast – a few specialized images were taken. The technician waved me over to look. In the magnified film of my breast are 5 white dots. Teeny tiny round dots, likes ones a finely sharpened white pencil would make.  A few together and two scattered. My initial reaction was: how did they see those in the one taken during my first appointment?  The radiologist came in and explained the dots are circular in shape, there are only a few, they were not noticed last year and appear to be new, and many women in their aging develop breast calcifications. All of these factors are not red flags. However, she continued, one time she let it go and her patient developed cancerous cells a year later.  Again, I was urged to continue with another more detailed procedure. I agreed to a biopsy for the following Monday.

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Giving Advice, Getting Advice, Wanting Advice

Giving Advice, Getting Advice,Wanting Advice

Reflection

I am listening to the new Radiohead album. It’s layered, moody, and sophisticated;  I play it every day while I sit with my pen and steno pad. I listen a little. I write a little. I think some more. I write some more. I listen some more. My initial reaction is conflicted. The music critics are lauding it, so I attempt to be patient and learn.

My therapist has told me it is time for the next move. She is no longer gently nudging me and giving me support around my household needs. She tells me I have lost too much of my identity. She says my kids keep getting older and I am not progressing. She points out that addressing my social isolation, identity voids, and personal interests will be better served with experiences outside the home. She reminds me that my volunteer activities were not satisfying. She tells me I am missing out. Basically reminding me that the world has continued to spin and I am stagnant. I have actively job hunted for over a year and remain unemployed.  She tells me that by our next appointment I need to meet with the Admissions Counselor at the local university to explore Master’s Programs. In our last session, I felt she was pushing her agenda. I returned home and cried my eyes out. Do I really need for someone to decide what is right for me and tell me what to do?  I don’t want to get another Master’s; I don’t want to return to school. Instead I am signing up for a six week series of writing workshops this summer. So there.

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Parenting and Partnering

Parenting and Partnering

Reflection – Friday

I’ve had this CD on repeat — Lord Huron’s Strange Trails. I am drinking a glass of white wine, a Pinot Gris I bought to use in a pasta recipe I will tackle in a moment. But for now, I wonder about having guidelines for us.

I cannot see her playing in the backyard; I had asked her to play in the driveway with her toys. Can you say something? I ask my spouse. I’d like for her to follow directions.

He sighs. “It’s just that you’re so restrictive with her.  She’s outside, she’s playing.” He shrugs for effect.

Wait, what? Come again? Could you repeat that? I laughed and said, “Yeah, whatever!”

There are so many guidelines that I put into place when it comes to her. It’s true. Where she can play, with what exactly, in sight, certain amount of time and so on. Why? Because I have learned with her, that if I give an inch she takes a mile. And if there aren’t any guidelines she will do as she pleases– at the risk of safety and civility. It’s my job to keep her alive and well-mannered. 

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Social Isolation – Parents

Social Isolation – Parents

Week 6

WeeWMrs. M tells me my six year old had a rough day in her classroom– she snapped at others and snarled, “Don’t look at me, stop staring at me!!” while screaming and crying. Mrs. M and I wonder if this irritability is a negative side effect of her current medication. She’s been on it for over 5 weeks. I am frustrated and disappointed and sad for her.  I know she wants friendships. I know she wants that closeness, that special feeling of being understood and accepted. That shared giggle. The eye contact and physical closeness when seated together by choice at the lunch table. The request to play a game and she says yes. The yearning to disclose an experience, to tell another of a personal situation. I know she wants it.

I feel like I have had difficulties forming meaningful friendships the past ten years. Do I unintentionally annoy people, do I snarl? We’ve moved a few times, I have three kids a range of ages, we have not joined a congregation, I have not worked outside the home, we live in a city. I could go on and on with possible barriers.  My therapist tells me I have justifications every time she explores this area of difficulty. I don’t want to come across as defensive. I want to be a good client– open, receptive, honest, willing to try.  Why do I even have any struggles? There’s famine in the world. People are serving our country and returning disabled. There are refugees risking their lives seeking a safer place.

I hate being a whiner.

I want to connect.

I feel more alone now as a parent of a child with special needs.

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