Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Walkin' on Sunshine

We can’t quite figure out where the back-lit poster advertising a tropical vacation under palm trees on a warm sandy beach with karsh cliffs on a small islet offshore is supposed to be. Barbara, my radiologist, says everyone asks her and so she makes up a different tropical locale each time. It’s like the game: “Where in the world?” that Conde Nast Traveler plays with its readers. She says to me ‘Hawaii.’ I say it looks more like Thailand. (I know Thailand because Greg and I spent a month there as an ‘out’ from snowy Moscow one February and we never quite got over going from ‘black and white’ to ‘technicolor’. Every tactile sense was awakened and forever remained a pleasant memory. Then there was the tsunami. I covered it from Phuket. And never quite recovered. Arrived in Khao Lak while bodies were still hanging from the trees and bloating in the sun before being lined up in rows outside Buddhist temples, the stench so thick that I had to throw away the boots and jeans and shirts I wore once back home because the smell never quite went away. So not every tropical location has pleasant memories for me.)

Radiation is truly a spa-like experience compared to the rest of cancer treatment. Talk about a non-event. I have no idea why I worried. The robes are nice. The waiting area has great, hip magazines like Self and More and W and would be perfect if you didn’t feel like you were looking in the mirror at all the other cancer patients. You actually feel like you look good until you look at them and realize you look just like them and that everyone probably feels sorry for you. I actually believed I was rocking the silver panther look until I saw myself on Fox News Sunday and was slightly horrified. I looked older than my mother.

On Monday before my first radiation session I went back to see Joshua Dobbs, my Pilates guru. He is Joseph Pilates reincarnated, I am convinced. And more in tune with my body than most of the doctors and PT specialists I have met. He knew exactly how far to push and stretch it. I had gone back to Pilates about 2 weeks after surgery, but it was too early. I felt like I pulled a stitch under or between my ribs. It was in my head and yes pulled but was not a stitch but it was sharp and so it scared me so I backed off. I was miserable. I also could tell by the look on Joshua’s face at that first session that he was amazed at how in 3 short weeks I had lost all my muscle tone. The rock hard core had dissipated and I saw it in his face because as much as he can read my body, I could read his face. We had to start all over - and that was just the breathing.

But when I went back two days ago I was more than ready and I needed someone to start pushing my body again. I didn’t know if I could reach over my head, but somehow I did. I grabbed the canvas straps and started doing the ‘100’. Somehow I could do it. And instead of shying away from the stretch or stopping when I felt it stretch as my PT was saying for weeks. I was pushing through it and warming up the pectoral muscles and I was starting to feel good. In fact, much of the class was stretching. And strangely somehow my core had come back in the weeks that I left Joshua and Pilates. Perhaps it was muscle memory or perhaps as I did my PT stretches on the floor watching “Brothers and Sisters” I tightened my core and suddenly I was back! He was amazed. But the breakthrough came when he put me on the foam cylinder that is designed for stretching one’s back and under my weight it began massaging my shoulder blade area and in exchange loosening up the pectoral muscle in the front. Unbelievable. I might as well have had Amelia massaging my knotted back with her little knuckles. It was PERFECT.

Then he made me visualize detaching one arm and reattaching it to the other side and turning the hand palm up then palm down - a way to stretch out - through mind body work - the tight tendons and pectoral muscle that had stiffened where it connects to the upper arm. The visualization started actually with him asking me to lie on the cylinder and visualize a thumb kneading the base of each implant - going around in a circular motion and relaxing that gripping tissue and muscle. He could actually tell me which side I was mentally working on by watching as the encapsulating muscle relaxed. THIS I told him was our goal in the next 6 weeks during radiation to do whatever we can to keep that muscle from encapsulating (tightening and gripping) the implant - to save the plastic surgery and prevent the side effects that radiation is known for. I think we have a shot. I am heading to my Alexander technique massage therapist right now to learn more about self-massage.

But let’s just say when the machine hummed and the radioactive beam struck my right upper chest wall on Monday, all I could visualize were those little Al Qaeda sleeper cells emerging from their caves under heavy bombardment - maybe in someplace like Tora Bora (not Bora Bora as the back-lit poster seemed to advertise) and they were screaming as they ran for cover: “Allahu Akbar!” I had to catch myself from actually chuckling so my shoulders wouldn’t shake at my ‘inside’ joke. I had to be careful to keep perfectly still and ‘just breathe.’ But inside I was laughing out loud. The mopping up operations, as my friends in the Pentagon call them, have begun and I feel like each morning I have an appointment at the tanning salon (nothing more, nothing less) to get ready for summer.