Sunday Reflections

Yes, I know it is Monday.

I was too tired to write yesterday after I got home, so I saved these thoughts for today.

Yesterday was a good day.  I wasn’t feeling too bad and I got through most of a competitor’s practice.  The main thing was that I got through almost all of the standard and it didn’t go to bad.  Boss has me working on relaxing my upper body while still holding myself together from my lets through my core to allow for swing and sway and it seems to be working.  I am also more aware of when I am pulling back my right arm–to the point that I am now almost overcorrecting.  But it’s progress, which I really need in standard right now.

After practice yesterday I took some time to sit down by the ocean and look at the mountains and just think.  A year ago I was in Toronto competing and was named ‘Top Female Student’ for that competition.  I had found the lump in my breast and I was waiting for an ultrasound to tell me what it was.  I was working full-time and incredibly busy getting ready for Remembrance Day. I had no idea my life was about to change so much.

Looking back, it is hard to think that really it has only been a year. It seems so much longer right now.  It seems strange that it is November, the leaves are changing, the clocks have changed and I am still dealing with breast cancer and waiting for it to be over.

It occurred to me yesterday that all along I have been waiting for everything to go back the way it was.  And even though I have always known it never will be, part of me is still hoping and waiting that I will wake up and it will be ok.  I will get up and put on my uniform and go to work.  I will go to workout at the gym.  I will practice. I will work some more. I will go to the studio and have a lesson. I will practice some more. I will come home, shower and go to sleep.  Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

I guess yesterday it dawned on me that I have to put that part of myself to bed.  Even when I do return to work and know I am cancer-free, I will not be the same.  I will be a survivor.  I have learned things about myself in the past year I never thought I would know.  I have discovered I am stronger than I ever thought possible and that I can be an inspiration to others.

This last thing is the most surprising for me.  When I started on this journey, I just wanted to get through it and find a way to keep myself focused.  At first I wasn’t even sure who to tell or how much to tell.  Then it occurred to me that if I planned to live an active life through chemo then I would have to tell those I saw regularly, because it would become obvious when my hair fell out.  In a way I felt I had a choice to either try and hide what was going on by hiding myself away, or I could face it and be active throughout it all.  I chose the latter and I am very grateful I did.  Just telling people helped to make this all seem real to me.

Getting shingles has really brought reality crashing to my door.  Even through chemo and radiation I have not felt so sick, tired, and sore.  I think it is hardest right now because this is supposed to be the time when I would feel the most like myself.  I am supposed to be able to dance regularly and be active and almost like ‘normal’.  Instead I feel more worn out than I ever have in my life.  The good news is that I seem to finally be coming to the end of the shingles.

I had a ‘pre-op’ appointment today, the second of three, but this one really drove home that in just over 3 weeks I am going to have major surgery.  I was given bandages for dressing changes, medications for pain control, and other things to prepare for the surgery and after.  Suddenly, the surgery is becoming real.  I have my third ‘pre-op’ appointment on Wednesday and that will also bring home a lot of things as it is with the Plastic surgeon.

I had some bloodwork done today because it seems something is not quite right with my hormones.  Despite not being on hormone therapy and almost 5 months post-chemo, I am still have regular and intense hot flashes and my body is not showing any signs of returning to what is expected of a 36-year-old woman.  So they are checking to see if the chemotherapy may have triggered early menopause.  If it has, there will be more decisions for me to make and it may mean a difference in what hormone therapy I do.

They are also sending me for an MRI of my breasts to have a look and see what is going on to try and reduce any ‘surprises’ during surgery.  In particular, they are just making sure that my left breast is still healthy and normal to confirm that there is no need to take any lymph nodes from my left side during the surgery.  There is no reason to think that there will be any problems in either breast.  But it still makes me nervous.

I don’t have a lesson today because Boss asked to move it so he could prepare better for working on the smooth waltz and tango later in the week.  Since I am having a lot of pain from the shingles I was more than eager to agree to take the night off.  I am looking forward to working more on the smooth routines, but I really want to be feeling better overall to do it.

Before my surgery, I am going to ask Boss to sit down and have a look at post-surgery goals to lay them out and make sure we are on the same page.  I will write them in my Book of Positives so I have them for after.  Already he has mentioned about adding open steps to my silver routines to make them more ‘open silver’ and more competitive for competing in open categories where there aren’t any step restrictions.  Among other things, I think he has enjoyed working on the solos in the past while and wants to keep moving on that momentum and I am eager to agree.  I like getting outside the box.

So as I looked back yesterday, I guess I realized I need to make some small adjustments to looking forward.  I need to find the ‘new normal’ and keep hanging in there.  It surprises me that after everything I have been through–it is shingles, not cancer, that I am struggling with the most, and is proving to be the most difficult to manage and get through.

But slowly I am getting through it.

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Moving forward

I have had 2 lessons this week to make small changes to the rumba solo and prepare for performing it in my home town on Saturday night.

Both of them have been hard on me, but I feel it is really important to perform the routine in my home town during Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I am pushing through.

Thankfully, there hasn’t been a lot of work that was needed, but it was really telling, especially in my lesson tonight that I am running out of steam.

This week outside of dance has been hard on me.  I have had a lot of appointments, like dental to fix my chemo cavities, and one of my closest friends left today to deploy at sea.  I have felt all week like I am playing the ‘catch-up’ game for sleep instead of staying ahead of it.  I am still having symptoms from the shingles, although the rash is starting to clear up, which is leaving me with pain and some sores that need to heal. On top of that, I may be experiencing fatigue and pain from the radiation.  It’s hard to tell these days what is causing what.

So, I am very seriously considering taking next week off from dance to give myself time to heal, or to do only one lesson.  I discussed it with Boss tonight and he agrees it might be a good idea.  I won’t make a final decision until Sunday, but it is looking like it might be a no lesson or only one lesson week.

Next week I start some of the pre-op appointments in preparation for my surgery and I think that is waking me up a bit.  My goal right now needs to be healing and recuperating as much as possible before my surgery on Nov. 26th so the recovery from that surgery is as smooth and uncomplicated as possible.  I have almost 5 weeks to go, and there is no reason to push myself once I get past Saturday.  I do need to make sure I stay active until my surgery as that will also help, but I don’t need to push it.

The focus in my lessons starting next week (or when I get back to them) is to work through the smooth routines to get them in my head and my feet so I am not starting from nothing when I return to dance after my surgery.  That should give me something to focus on until my surgery so I don’t drive myself crazy thinking about it until then.

I am worried about saying I will take an entire week off from dance because I can tell my motivation is waning a bit.  I am worried if I slow down too much I won’t be able to get back going again.  I don’t want to fall down that dark path (not that I think Boss would let me!).

I did find out this week that I won’t re-start the hormonal therapy until about 4 weeks after my surgery.  I am still nervous about it, since I never really started it like I was supposed to, and it is hard to say how it will affect me.  But that will be an issue for the new year now.

Lots going on, but right now the 2 weeks before my surgery seem to be pretty clear of appointments and other things and I think that is how it should stay.  The more rest I can get now, without being completely inactive, the better my surgery should go.

I finally listed my dresses for sale, but I need to start spreading out to more sites.  Getting them sold will reduce a lot of financial stress in being able to afford the new dresses I will need after my surgery.  Wish me luck on that!

So I am taking it easy.  I think I have earned it.

Post Comp thoughts

I have had a few days to reflect and catch up after the competition, so now I am going to write down some of my thoughts.

The Girl With the Tree Tattoo recently wrote a post about ‘Post Comp Blues‘ which is really relevant as I also go through my own version of this after an event.

This time it’s a little different because of all the issues and challenges I faced leading up to the event, but certainly my thoughts are quite reflective and introspective.

I had a ‘post-comp’ lesson with Boss yesterday where we took the time to have a look at the videos from the competition, discuss how it went and what the next steps should be.  It was a really good talk and helped to bring some focus into things.  He and I were pretty much on the same page with what we noticed–my legs were much more consistently straighter and I am more grounded than previously, there is some upper body movement, but there needs to be more, and you can see where I was running out of steam as each dance progressed.  He also noted that even though we didn’t really place (nor did I expect to competing against open-level competitors with my silver routines), we did really win the audience.  Several people made a point of saying how much they enjoyed watching us dance.

One of my goals for this competition was to focus on working and connecting with Boss throughout the routines and to increase my expressiveness.  That was something that went really really well throughout the entire competition and Boss even remarked before the evening session that we were really working well together on the floor.  I am taking a victory for that.

It’s hard to know what to think about this competition knowing all the challenges I was facing for it.  I also didn’t compete against anyone at my own level, so really right now I have no idea where I would stand if I were to compete against other silver-level dancers, but Boss thinks I would do really well.

There are small things to fix, of course.  My armwork for the most part was really good, but here and there I would do something that was just not quite what I was looking for.  I would still forget my right arm a little.  My arm movements did look natural.  Most of my footwork was precise, but there were some spots where it could have been much sharper.  I need to work on my ‘flick’ when moving forward.  I still have my leg speed when I need it.

Overall, I am very very glad I did this competition even though I came close to having to cancel.  Even at the competition I had a strong war with myself before deciding to do the evening session.  The competition gave me something to focus on and now I can look back and be proud to know that I did it.

I have 5 weeks until my surgery and it still seems unreal to me that it is going to happen.  I am still feeling the effects of shingles.  I am still experiencing the side-effects from radiation.  I am exhausted.

Boss and I are going to perform my solo at a social dance this weekend for the dancers in my home town.  I am looking forward to the performance, but honestly if I didn’t have a performance I wouldn’t be doing any lessons this week.

Next week, we are going to dive into the smooth routines and try to get them to a workable place before my surgery.  That will be the focus for the 4 weeks leading up to it.

Boss talked a lot about my surgery and the effects it could have on my dancing.  He also talked about some exercises and things he wants me to focus on while I am recovering since I won’t be able to be on the floor.  I am, I guess, a little surprised he had put so much thought into it, because honestly I haven’t yet, but I am glad to know he is already thinking ahead and how he can support post-surgery.  I just haven’t gotten there yet, so it is a little over-whelming to think and talk about.

Boss and I talked briefly about standard yesterday, as I had told him I was having doubts about it and asked him to wait until after the competition to talk about it.  He had some encouraging things to say, but I need to give it more thought for myself before I think I will be really ready to discuss it with Boss.  I don’t plan on making any decisions until after my surgery as there is no point, but it would be good to have the discussion now because perhaps there isn’t a decision to make.  I know I missed standard watching the couples competing in it at the competition and most especially watching Boss compete with one of his other students and that is a big thing to take into consideration.  I am sure I will have more to write about it in the near future.

I guess the main thing that is bothering me a little right now is that I am very much lacking motivation.  I have a lesson tomorrow and part of me can’t imagine having the energy to do it.  I have lessons next week, but I haven’t really gotten to the point of looking forward to them as I usually do.  And I am looking forward to working on the smooth routines.

Mostly right now, I just want to sleep a lot.  I only yesterday stopped taking the anti-viral medication every 4 hours so last night was the first night I was able to sleep without having to wake up to take them.  I hope with some sleep I will ‘perk-up’.

More to follow.

Final preps

The Competition is tomorrow!

It still seems surreal to me, and I keep asking myself–“Am I really doing this?”

Yep, I am.  And I know that even with the shingles and fatigue and all the other craziness I have faced lately that if I didn’t do it, it would always sit bad with me.  I would feel like I let an opportunity pass me by.  Doing this competition has so far accomplished what I had hoped–it has given me something to focus on while I recovered from radiation and kept me from worrying about my surgery.  I don’t think I would have gotten through the last 3 weeks without this competition to focus on and keep me motivated.

Speaking of craziness, though–I have a friend who is soon deploying for almost 3 months who has to ship his pets to his family back east from the mainland.  Originally, I had volunteered to help him out with the transport of his fur babies and it was supposed to happen next week.  Unfortunately, some issues came up with where the animals are going and they have to be shipped today.  So in a few hours I am off to the mainland and back!  It’s unexpected the day before the comp, but doable with some advanced planning.

I won’t be back on the Island until almost 11 pm, so once I finish my morning coffee, I am packing up all my dance stuff which Boss will pick up so it will be in the car for tomorrow.  Myself and one of Boss’s other student are going to stay the night at his third student’s house as it is much closer to the ferry and will save us time in the morning.  Boss will meet us at 6 am for the 7 am ferry. OY!

This planning already brings me back to the last competition I did in January.  We ended up doing a similar thing.  We took the 7 am ferry together the morning the competition started, so it was an early day.  On the ferry, we paid the extra $10 to sit in the ‘lounge’, which is just a quiet area, and stuck to ourselves doing hair and make-up on the ferry.  It’s an hour and a half sail, so by the time we docked, we were all decked out.  That is the plan again this time.

The good thing about tomorrow is that we dance in the late morning to early afternoon, but then we have a big break that allows us to check into our hotel room, eat and (especially for me!) have a nap.  None of us dance again until the later evening session so we should get a good rest in.

The only big downside right now is that yesterday the blisters in the shingles rash started ‘popping’.  That means I have some open, raw skin on my back and more to come.  I was really hoping it would wait until Sunday or Monday to do that.  I have some dressing to put over it to protect it and the pain is manageable without pain meds.  I have cut back to only taking them at night so they don’t affect dance.

I had a lesson and practice yesterday and everything went well.  Boss recorded the solo and it is looking pretty good.  Some parts looked much better than I expected and we went through it from top to bottom about 5 times yesterday.  At the end of last night, I also went through all 5 dances, including a Paso with 3 highlights, so I know it is possible for me to do it.  My energy level was actually pretty good through them.  I am feeling pretty good about the preparations for this competition.  Boss made a point of saying the same last night–that he is really please with how things are looking.

Well, I should get onto packing my stuff together.  Wish me luck, and I will probably post on Sunday to let you know how it went as I won’t be taking my computer with me.

Shingles

Say what? Aren’t they on roofs?

Apparently not always.

I think I mentioned I broke out in a rash and thought it might have been the side effects for the pain meds I was taking.  After googling the possible side effects, I realized it was not and since it was worse today I dragged myself back to the ER.

It took them about 30 seconds to diagnose me with shingles.

Apparently being a cancer patient and undergoing radiation puts you at risk for shingles and it is an uncommon side effect.  Certainly not one that was on my radar, for sure.

Aside from the rash, it causes debilitating nerve pain and that is what I have been experiencing for the past week.

There is a silver lining.

Because I went to the ER within 72 hours of the rash appearing, I am able to take anti-viral medication to shorten the time period the condition will last.  With the anti-virals plus multiple pain medications I should be feeling much better by early next week.

The only limit on my activity is what I can tolerate through the pain and because it is nerve pain moving helps control it.

So after a bit of a break, I should be back to dance early next week and somehow still able to do the competition next weekend.

There is nothing like making things as challenging as possible for me to reach my goal of dancing through this.

My first concern was that I was contagious–afterall, shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox–and more so because Boss told me he has never had chicken pox–but the doctors told me I am not contagious unless someone comes in direct contact with the rash, which is very unlikely as it is on my back and breast and not in any exposed areas.

Whew! I don’t know what I would do if I had unwillingly and unknowingly made Boss sick right before a competition.

We did have one competition way back in the beginning of 2014 when we both came down with the flu during the comp, but it was the tail end of the comp and we managed.  The entire group almost ended up sick in the end.

I am just glad this is not so much a ‘show-stopper’ as I was fearing, and that I am not contagious.  I had to cancel my lesson today as I was obviously feeling quite miserable, but Boss said we should be able to make it up on Tuesday.  I hope by then I am feeling better.

Truthfully, I am pretty disheartened by this news.  I am glad it is not anything worse (although it’s bad enough!), but on top of everything else I am dealing with it really just seems unfair.  Not that life is ever fair, but I guess I was just really hoping for a break :). That said, I did have a fairly easy time through chemo (as far as chemo can be easy!), so in a way I guess I was due for something bad from radiation.  Just to keep things balanced.  I am hopeful that this all means that my surgery will be complication-free so I can finally move forward with my life without too many lasting issues from cancer.

So today I start taking anti-virals every 4 hours, which includes waking up to take them.  I was pretty much waking up that often to take my pain meds, so it is not too much different.

In 2 weeks, all of this will be behind me and I can look back and be relieved to have gotten through it.

Just have to get there 🙂