On my 5th lap around the Cinnabon concession at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, I’m fairly certain I saw a security guard whispering into his collar:
“Uh, yeah, looks like things are 'bout to get pretty sticky right here…”
Fortunately, my flight back to New York was called before I could carry out Operation Bun and Run, but suffice to say, it was that kind of week.
It started out just like the third week in August always does: a multi-day scavenger hunt for random things my kids "need" before returning to college. These are items that no one should really have to buy more than once a decade, and yet, I inexplicably replace them every year. Might you be able to explain how someone could lose, for example, ALL of their underwear, or say, misplace a refrigerator?
I absolutely hate the end of summer. For me, it signals the nearing end of things I love; conversations with my kids over Sunday dinners, the beach in the summer sunshine, the freedom of my outdoor workouts. But year after year, I try to remind myself that it's not really an ending. It's a circle, a cycle. Eventually I surrender to the natural orbit of things. It will be just one hellishly exhausting week getting the kids back to school. I will screw together the Ikea bed made entirely of popsicle sticks, ignoring the manual illustration of a portly man with an X drawn through him which is apparently the international symbol for YOU ARE AN IDIOT TO ATTEMPT THIS PROJECT ALONE. I will whack one final illegal nail into the wall, securing both the crooked bookshelf and the fact that I will not be getting my security deposit back. Soon enough, there will be time to recover and grieve that my babies are gone. Give me an hour and I'll get back to whatever is next.
I was two days away from taking my son down to Texas for grad school when my sister called. "Did you speak to mom today?" she asked. My mother had been having some stomach pain and lightheadedness while lying in bed and was waiting on some medical test results. My sister warned me that she had some news and it wasn’t anything I would be expecting.
It was the kind of news that could not be heard the first time it was spoken. It could not be processed or digested, but rather, sat in my mouth like a giant wad of tasteless, disgusting, chewed up gum. I couldn’t wait to spit it out.
"There is a tumor on her pancreas."
Yeah, no, I don’t want to chew on that at all. Feh. I’m spitting that out right now.
My sister probably said other stuff, too, but I don’t know what it was. There was clearly a mistake here, anyway. My mom is Not a Regular Mom. She climbs mountains, runs marathons, eats well, takes her vitamins and looks young enough to be my sister. She is vital, active, healthy and strong. She doesn't do tumors.
So I hung up the phone, taught a boot camp class, and prepared an omelet for dinner. As I reached for the eggs, I told my husband about my mom. I said, "The doctors think my mom has..." matter-of-factly, like I was going to say, gas, my mom has gas—And then I said "pancreatic cancer", dropped the egg, choked on my words, and ingested the biggest most painful glob of terrible I have ever swallowed.
A meteor had struck me, but we were still in orbit so I went upstairs to help my son pack for school. I also packed up my mother's diagnosis, which was too difficult to hold while Space Bag shrinking my son's bedding into something the size of a toaster. Two days later, we arrived at his new apartment in Austin, Texas. I ignored the portly man with the big X and built a bed, a bookcase and a desk made entirely of wooden ice cream spoons; then headed back to New York, exhausted and grieving the end or the circle or the cycle, or whatever was next.
And this is how it came to be that I was stalking the sticky buns at the airport. I really just wanted to smother the taste of that rancid news before I went home. Mercifully, my flight was called before I committed carbo-cide. Retreating reluctantly from the counter, I flew home to get one more child off to school. After that, I'd heave myself into an entirely dark and unknown orbit.
August 22, 2013
Taught my ROK Tabata Blast class in the morning. I just love these gals! They show up and play all out. There is a palpable energy in the room that connects us and generates more power than any of us have alone. They light me up. Under the crushing weight of my mother's illness, this is the only place I still feel powerful.
I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for my daughter who is going back for her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania tomorrow. After replacing her fall jacket (I don't know how, Mom, but I lost all four of my jackets...), I headed home to pack up and pile her stuff in the living room. Round about 11pm, I began lugging it out to the car. Lest you be wondering, how come your husband isn't helping you out here? Well, conveniently, he just had major back surgery and can't lift, bend, or twist. And also, he has never helped me pack a car because I won't let him. I could pack all of a small nation's belongings into a Honda Civic. My husband would have trouble getting three items to fit into a mini-van and then have something to say about the poor design of the interior. I suspect he was also the kind of kid that tried to jam a square peg into a round hole and deduced that the hole was inadequate. As for the possibility that my daughter might be involved in her relocation, let's just say that I have been setting a bad precedent about doing everything for my kids since about the time the pee stick turned blue.
There's just one more sleepless night and the move-in tomorrow. Then I can focus on caring for my mom, I thought. I hoisted up a large box filled with some 50 lb. of textbooks and began the trek down my front porch stairs.
Let the record show: I STUCK THE LANDING.
I really cannot stress enough the importance of completing The Very Last Step. This, I have found, is true of everything, but especially with regard to stairs. It was dark and the large carton obscured my view. I thought I had made it down to the last step when I extended my right leg out, goose-step style, to proceed to the car. Unfortunately, I was on The Second to Last Step when I launched forward. This is no place to be if you are planning to continue your stride without calamity. For your visual edification, picture someone walking off a diving board only to realize there's no water in the pool. Where the hell is the sidewalk? I thought, a split second before I found it. I landed squarely on my right foot, box of books intact (which for reasons that cannot be explained without a shrink, I am very proud of), and experienced a sensation not found in nature. What followed was a wild woman writhing on the sidewalk, screaming and cursing, an EMS ride to the hospital, a five-hour emergency room visit. And a quadriceps tendon that had torn clear off the bone, taking with it a keepsake piece of my kneecap. As I was being wheeled in for a CT scan, the orderly asked cheerily, "How ya feeling tonight?"
August 23, 2013
We arrived back from the ER at 5am. The house was in a state of semi-move, with about a quarter of my daughter's things in the car and the rest awaiting transport. I mentioned to my daughter that now that she had two invalid parents, she would have to pack the remaining items herself. This suggestion was met with less than enthusiasm, but to her credit, that girl loaded everything in and my husband drove her back to school.
I am having my first quiet moment and my brain will not shut up.
You are going to get so fat.
You are going to go insane without a workout.
You are going to lose all your clients and classes.
You are going to lose your mother.
Yeah, no more quiet moments for me, thanks.
Get up and clean up, right now.
Got a crutch on my left and a Swiffer on my right. Got a rolling office chair in the kitchen so I can sit while cleaning the counters and loading the dishwasher.(Why didn't I figure this one out sooner?) Got a backpack strapped on my front so I can load and haul stuff back to restore order. I feel ten times better now. Being productive makes me feel powerful, even when I've been cut off at the knees.
August 25, 2013
Better spirits today. It's gorgeous out and there's an arts and crafts fair on the boardwalk. The game plan is to drive over and vault myself across the boards on my crutches for a little triceps workout/recreational shopping. I am so excited by this that I am going to crab walk down a flight of stairs to my gym to workout first...Get ready my one-legged friends, The Gimpy Girl Workout is in the works!
August 26, 2013
I am none to happy right now. Just came from the doctor who has told me that I definitely need surgery, and soon. I have been informed that I will be in a brace for eight weeks and have about six months with limited mobility before I can resume my old leg and cardio workouts. I fear I will be locked up in Bellevue long before that. But fortunately, I have a client coming tonight. I always feel better when I boss other people around.
August 27, 2013
In what seems to be a perpetual mood swing, I am full of pep and vigor this morning. I catapulted myself into my Rok Tabata Blast class and did my best to lead by example. I tell them every week: Play full out, 100%, whatever that looks like for you, regardless of your circumstances. I tell them: Do it because you CAN, because you are blessed to have a pair of legs that got you out of bed and got you here where you have the strength to propel yourself upward from wherever you are stuck.
And so I played, if not with my whole body, at least with my whole heart. I am grateful that I didn't hit my head, that I am not paralyzed, that I am not in terrible pain. I am fortunate that this is just a temporary setback. I am blessed that I have someone who loves me enough to drive me to the gym. I am lucky to have the opportunity to train a group of women that play full out and inspire me to propel myself upward from where I've been stuck.
August 28, 2013
The waking up is the hardest part. I am sleeping better now even with the brace on, probably because the crutches are so damned exhausting. But when the alarm goes off, for a split second, I don't remember what has happened. Until I pull off the covers and see my lifeless Velcro appendage lying there. It disregards my call to action, leaving me to manually lift it and place it on the floor. Kinda kills my giddyup-and-go.
But today when I did The Big Reveal, I was a little quicker to let go of the knee-jerk reaction to be depressed. I am starting to get that whether I like it or not, this is what IS. I can scream at the top of my lungs that it isn't fair, I can wallow in the darkest depths and be right that this is terrible. I can eat till there's not enough Velcro to close the straps around my thigh. But it doesn't make one bit of difference. My kneecap is still cracked. My tendon remains untethered. What's next is surgery, so it's time to step up, crutches and all, and just get on with it.
My Deal-With-It approach worked very well for about 30 minutes. But my husband entered the kitchen and disrupted the solace of my digestive morning ritual: coffee and flax protein cereal.
You just don't mess with a digestive morning ritual. Am I wrong?
First, he set up a Mud Run course, opening every cabinet door. Next, he newspapered all counters and the tabletop. Then, for the final challenge, he created a crutch-vaulting event with the cell phone charging wire. By the time I got through all the obstacles and sat down to eat my breakfast, the window of opportunity was gone. If you have a digestive morning ritual, I know you know what I am talking about.
No time to fret about it though, because I had a client coming in to The Lorture Chamber. I was feeling a whole lot better, hobbling around, cackling like a crazy, crippled witch while running her through an obstacle course of my own: Box Jumps, Over the Top Squats, One-legged Lunge Kicks...After we finished, my plan was to sweat myself up with my new Gimpy Girl Workout. But you know how plans can change in a heartbeat? I answered the phone to hear that my mother's pancreatic cancer had metastasized to her liver. Google-ing that fact is a heart stopper.
August 29, 2013
Today I picked up my MRI results and dropped them off at the hospital where I had blood work done in preparation for surgery next week. Here I received my new favorite compliment: You are so graceful on those crutches...Not as graceful: Getting dressed by myself in the morning. This requires a triple major in geometry, physics and gymnastics.
Just got another phone call to let me know that my mother's liver biopsy will be on the same day as my surgery, in the same hospital. For some reason, this oddly comforts me.
Didn't get a workout in today and I can feel the mental soreness setting in...
August 30, 2013
Awoke this morning with urgency about working out. All I can really handle are some upper body exercises and abs but I will take what I can get. I have to do everything I can to minimize this overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I actually have to come to terms with the fact that for some things, I really do need help, and so, I took a friend up on her offer to drive me around and get some errands done. When we returned, my husband had a little surprise for me. Gather round and have a look at my brand new wheelchair. here to edit.
August 31, 2013
You know what? I am done feeling sorry for myself. In a few days, I will be having surgery, and in the days that follow, I may not be able to move around very well. But right now, I am not in pain and it is a solid summer day. I am packing up my wheels and taking them on the road. My husband is going to deposit me at the park where there is a .6 mile path along the bay. I am going to teach myself to drive a wheelchair like a race car. You would all be wise to stay out of my way...
Have just returned from a 1.2-mile ride during which I terrorized a family of five on bikes, three seagulls, and a pit bull. Very good call to wear my weight lifting gloves which are now noticeably worn thin on the palms. I have a new appreciation for what it takes to be mobile when you are incapacitated by injury or physical disability. I did enjoy the sweat and the wind in my face but this was a SERIOUS shoulder workout. Someone along the way suggested I get a motorized chair. But that's not the way I roll.
September 1, 2013
As a friend of mine noted the other night, my injury is, as they say in sports, a season-ender. I suppose it does limit my playtime, but I will not wallow today. My friend is coming to pick me up to "do something fun". Will report on this later. The possibilities are endless...
The fun thing my dear friend picked me up to do yesterday was have a pedicure. This is an incredibly loving gesture for anyone, but particularly for me, with the prospect of exposing my feet to an operating room full of medical professionals, it is also the only responsible thing to do. We don't need anyone other than me passing out in there. My hooves are horrible. They aren’t so much toenails as they are talons. My toes are like a traumatized troop of soldiers; bruised, disfigured and awaiting medical attention.
Poor Esther, my nail artist/attending nurse. My friend had given her the heads up that she was bringing in someone with a knee injury that would need special care. I have been thinking about this", Esther said, like maybe she had diagrammed it out on a drafting table. Esther ushered me to my seat and grabbed some lovely cushions to support my bum leg in the massage chair (which, let me say, loved me better than my husband). My aggressive Velcro brace, which behaves like a pit bull, gnarled at these fine satin supporters whilst Esther, poor dear, got a look at my Little Piggies.
Oh, she was probably gagging about something else.
"Just a moment", she said, excusing herself to the back room.
Oh, she was probably just wanting to fix her ponytail.
She returned with an electric burr tool--the kind used in high school wood shop--and began sculpting my gnarly roots into a proper foot. She made them classy too. French, even. I left there with my new fancy feet, feeling relaxed and relieved. If only I could shake this pit bull off my leg.
September 2, 2013
Today is the 22nd birthday of my twin sons (I know that is a weird way to phrase it, but I just couldn't figure it out grammatically, any other way...) On this day, 22 years ago, I had a baby in my arms, a baby in ICU, and a painful incision from a C-section. I desperately wanted to get to my son in ICU. The nurses wanted me to wait for a wheelchair. But a patient patient I am not, so I grabbed my IV pole and hobbled through the hallways till I got to my son, Brandon. He was frail, enclosed in a glass box with an IV of his own taped onto his see-thru little arm. For a kid that had been basting in my oven for an extra two weeks, he sure looked undercooked--no eyelashes, no fingernails--but I remember thinking as i held the whole of him in the crook of one arm, I'm here now, sweet boy. It's gonna be okay. Frankly, I could have been set on fire, and I would have gotten my flaming butt into that ICU to be with him when he needed me most.
And now there's my mom, and my knee, and I can't get to her. I feel like an animal trapped in a cage. I am near about ready to chew my own leg off.
September 3, 2013
Today I took my wheelchair out for a 1.25-mile roll on the boardwalk. I may not be able to get my heart rate way up, but my shoulders are going to be ripped. And my hands...oh my God, my hands are shredded! Tore through two pair of gloves in three days. Today, I grabbed a roll of duct tape and reinforced the palms and fingers of a pair of garden gloves, confirming any suspicions you might have had that I am bat shit crazy. Nevertheless, not a drop of blood was shed. Unfortunately, it was a bit windy up there. Imagine for a moment you are sitting in an armchair. Now imagine that you make a decision to strap this armchair to your tuchas and drag yourself into a headwind along a series of wooden planks while singing Ride Like the Wind along with your IPod.
I've got to ride, ride like the wind, to be free again...and I got such a long way to go (such a long way...)
September 5, 2013
No time to write yesterday. First night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at my mother's house for a family dinner. According to my rabbi: On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. I am already not too happy with how this year is being written so far. Tomorrow I am having surgery to re-attach my quadriceps tendon to my kneecap. Coincidentally, my mom will be having a biopsy of her liver at the same hospital, on the same floor, at the same time. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received from my friends and family. Praying for the best possible outcome for my mother and me.
To be more precise, I am praying that when I wake up at 4am to leave for Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, I discover that this has all just been a bad dream.
September 6, 2013
4:30am...off to hospital to have my thigh reconnected to my drumstick...
September 7, 2013
I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning at 5:30am. My mom, who was coincidentally scheduled for a laparoscopic biopsy of her liver that morning, was already sitting in the waiting room when I arrived. There was absolutely nothing positive about any of this scenario--my mom having a suspected pancreatic metastasis to her liver, and me, about to have some holes drilled in my kneecap so as to lace it together with my quadriceps tendon like a pair of NIKEs (Double knot it, for God's sake...). But still, my mother and I were each buoyed by the sight of each other. Throughout my entire adult life, my mother and I have been making the same purchases and selections--pocketbooks, shoes, dishes, paintings, food--without prior consultation, showing up for family affairs wearing the same color, or style, and more often than not, the same outfit. Matching hospital gowns was just the natural order of things and I think we both took some comfort in it. Party in the O.R.!
When I woke up in recovery, opening my eyes occurred to me like a strength move. Eyelid curls with heavy weights. I could only manage one at a time. But there, directly across from me in a stretcher of her own, was my mother. A moment later, she opened her eyes, and we waved to each other. My mom, she is just always there for me.
My doctor had wanted me to stay overnight in the hospital to make sure my pain was managed, but my insurance company had another idea, so the nurses came in to get me ready for discharge. I had been given a femoral nerve block so I couldn't actually feel my leg at all. My doctor told me that the block would likely last about 24 hours, getting me through the worst of the post-surgical pain. So I went home and set up my own little recovery room in the house. Around dinnertime, my mother called to see how I was doing. She also told me that her doctor had confirmed her metastasis, limiting her treatment options to chemotherapy. The news couldn't have been worse. I couldn't even respond to it. I was just completely numb, from the brain down.
A few hours later, however, some of my sensation came back. Seems there had been a slight miscalculation about the nerve block, which wore off abruptly after about 12 hours, leaving me to endure 15 relentless hours of mind-bending agony. I have always thought myself to have a high threshold for pain, but this started at the ceiling and escalated to levels I did not think I would live to tell you about. Mind you, I was heavily medicated, but I might as well have just taken a couple of gummy bears. When the pain finally subsided enough that I could unclench my teeth, I opened my eyes to the reality of my mother's cancer. I actually have no threshold for this kind of pain.
September 8, 2013
Still have a lot of leg pain today but it's tolerable so I am going to get myself into gear and attempt some sort of exercise. I just need to feel like I am in control of something. I have to stop fighting the reality that I will be in this damned brace for eight weeks and create a more powerful way of dealing with what IS. I have an injury. It has to heal. But my life cannot be on hold or a series of excuses while I recover. Likewise, I need to accept my mother's cancer for what it is. Recently, someone suggested that my mother needed to choose her cancer for what it is and what it isn't, so that she could be free to create a possibility for what's next in her life. I couldn't really get that until today. But now I see; I can only choose that my mother have metastatic pancreatic cancer because that's what she has. There's nothing else on the menu. But in accepting the diagnosis, there is the possibility of seeing what's next in the realm of LIVING with cancer. No more knocking on doors that are already closed. We are looking for the openings. Today I am going to research new experimental approaches to pancreatic chemotherapy. Shoulders back, chin up, eyes on the horizon, Loren. You got this.
September 9, 2013
My leg is feeling much better today so I got in a little workout this morning. Spent the rest of the day with good friends. I am not a big believer in "things happen for a reason", but I do believe that I can learn and grow from all things that happen, good and bad. I have had, as they say, a lot of "teachable moments" these past few weeks. And they all come down to this: It's not that "living in the moment" is better; it's just that the moment is all there actually is to live in. Every other place I go to distract myself from what's going on in the present is just like taking an excursion on a boat that's still tethered to the dock. Eventually, I float back to the place that's got me hooked. And it is only in my pulling apart that twisted knot that I can really move forward. For me, untangling the knot has been figuring out new productive ways to relieve stress while my leg heals, and researching advances in pancreatic cancer treatment that might offer her more time.
September 10, 2013
My mother is beginning an experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer that has been shown to extend survival rates an average of two years. With her treatment plan moving forward, I must follow her lead. So here it is: Tomorrow, I go back to training my private clients. I will also create a workout regimen for myself that includes cardiovascular training in my wheel chair, upper body strengthening with weights and bands, and seated core work with a weighted ball. This is no time to fall apart, and I know that getting fat and flabby is just going to make a stressful time worse for me. I am really looking forward to getting back into my gym with my clients and hopefully in about a week, I will back to my classes.
September 16, 2013
At some point, I have to stop giving myself pep talks and just get on with it. I haven't written an entry in nearly a week because I finally stopped the locker room chant and went out to play. Or more precisely, out to train. My injury has pushed me to find new ways to challenge myself. I have come up with a few options for cardiovascular exercise that allow me to expel some serious stress. The first of these workouts is in my wheelchair, rolling my little heart out on the boardwalk. If you've seen me out there, I apologize...I know I look crazy. I sound crazy. And most likely, I am crazy. But I feel so much better when I am in action, rolling forward, so to speak.
To the two-legged show off on the bike who screamed at me, "You're in the bike lane!" like I was driving the wrong way on the Meadowbrook Parkway, I say: , this IS my bike, thank you very much. Your ignorance has inspired me to pick up the pace and lap you and your wimpy wheels.
I have resumed training my clients and have come to see that it requires another level of coaching to teach without being able to fully demonstrate an exercise. In ways I never expected, my injury has given me new insight into training for myself and for coaching my clients. Mentally, being back in the gym, pushing my clients to push themselves has been very therapeutic. Next week, back to the classroom at NYSC and Rok Health and Fitness. I am determined to play full out, 100%, even if it is on only one leg.
October 1, 2013
It has been a few weeks since my last post and that is because I have been super busy! I have returned to my full schedule of exercise classes and private training sessions and feel extraordinarily grateful for those hours of the day that are filled with something other than contemplating my "situation". Now about a month into my new life as a one-legged wonder, I am starting to see the results of my lapse in rigorous exercise. Body parts are hanging where they have never hung before. I am doing my best to accept that this is temporary and that I will be able to reclaim my strength and tone when I fully recover from this injury. But I am struck by how dependent I am on intense exercise to keep my stress level from spiraling out of control. I have been exercising routinely in one form or another since I was 12 years old. While I never played any sports, I was quick to suit up for the seventies running craze and was an early participant in Swedish Gymnastics, a weightless calisthenics class set to music. Once aerobics arrived on the scene, well, I haven't stopped sweating since. Until now. These days, I don't even recognize myself without my glistening skin, without my pounding heart, without my aching muscles. And I don't recognize the screaming maniac that seems to show up in my new sagging skin either...Gotta find another way to blow off steam. Will work on that tomorrow.
Scratch that. TODAY.