Thursday, October 11, 2018

Four Months Post PAO

Wait, haven't we been here before?

It's funny, I've been wanting to write here again, just because. Not because anyone is really reading, but because I've been writing elsewhere, and writing is so helpful to my mental health. Also, I've had some serious memory issues lately, and my sense of time is distorted. I really appreciate looking back at the things I wrote Once Upon A Time.

I looked at the date today and realized it has been exactly four months since I had my left PAO, so I thought it seemed like a good time to check in here and maybe regain some momentum for blogging. I pulled up blogger, and what do you know, the last time I got an itch to write, I was also four months post-PAO, only from my right side. Maybe it's something about that four month mark that does something to you.

It's hard to believe it has only been four months. I guess that's good, right? In fact, looking back at the events of the past four years, since I started this blog, it's hard to believe they happened so recently. Cancer especially feels like a world away.

When I decided to have my hip fixed in the summer of 2014, I started to read blogs written by people who have bad hips. Then, when I was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2015, I started to read blogs written by people with breast cancer. The vast majority of these blogs are no longer updated or no longer in existence. With hips, I suspect it is because people make a nice recovery and move on. With cancer, I suspect it is mixed. Some people make a nice recovery and move on; others die. I wonder a lot what happens to the people whose blogs just disappear. I don't know if I want to know.

At any rate, I don't want to just disappear. I do hope that I can wrap this up soon, because it was fully intended to be a short, perhaps informative, 'Hey, this was my experience with hip surgery!' blog, along the lines of the ones I read that helped me so much. Instead, it took a different direction. Now, with five out of the six hip surgeries behind me (not counting the one by the nice but incompetent surgeon), I hope, with my fingers crossed, that I can wrap up this chapter of my life soon, and this blog along with it.

I guess a good place to start would be a blow-by-blow description of everything that has happened since the last time I wrote, but that's not going to happen. So here's the short of it.

Suffice it to say, this is a loooooooong recovery process. I ended up having some rather major issues with my right side and not being able to flex my thigh. I worked to overcome that, but still couldn't bend enough to put on my stinking shoe at well over six months post-op, which was highly annoying. My doctor thought it would help if he shaved down some bone, and said he could do it when he took the screws out, so that I wouldn't have to add another surgery onto my seemingly endless string of surgeries. Unfortunately, I am apparently The Slowest Bone Grower he's ever seen, so I had to wait until March for that to happen, because he couldn't take the screws out until my fractures healed more. And then, after he took the screws out, he said it turned out I wasn't as healed as he thought (apparently it is hard to tell on the X-rays because the screws block a lot?), and I ended up on crutches again for another freaking month, which as you can guess, pissed me off quite a bit (me? pissed? never!).

It sent me into this long-lasting funk that was part hissy fit, part depression. To be fair, it was not just over my medical woes, but also work and a bunch of other Isn't life fun? bullshit. Pardon my French. And even though I had been calling his surgery scheduler to schedule my left side for, like, forever, so that I got my top choice of dates (early May, so that I wouldn't have to go back to school on crutches this fall), I ended up canceling those dates because after spending most of March on crutches, I simply couldn't deal.

After all that, I ended up with July surgery dates, just like last summer! Ha! But at the time, it seemed better than having to go through it all again whilst in this huge funk and so soon after getting done with another rather long stint on crutches. And then, as fate would have it, some angel canceled their surgery in early June, so I slid right in and had my left arthroscopic surgery on June 4th and the left PAO on June 11th. It couldn't have worked out any better. Well, actually, it could've worked out better if I'd never had to have this done in the first place, but hey, I'm not bitter at all. Nope.

Anyways. The left side was supposed to be easier because the joint was in better condition to start with. It HAS been easier, but not WAY EASIER like I was expecting. Like, my surgeon told me I'd be able to bear weight much sooner if I didn't have to have microfracture done, which I didn't. But then it turned out he had to make such a big correction (bigger than anticipated) that there was such a huge gap in my pelvis that he wanted me non-weight bearing for six weeks anyway, which as you can guess, pissed me off quite a bit (me? pissed? never!).

But, whatever. Like I said earlier, that seems like forever ago. I'm pretty much over it by now and just ready to be done already. I'm holding out hope that my bones will miraculously grow faster this time around so I can have my screws out before the end of the year (I have high deductible insurance), though I'm pretty resigned to that not happening. What's another 6K in the large scheme of things? It's okay, I AM MADE OF MONEY. No worries, no worries at all.

So here we are. I am still going to PT twice a week and am working half-time, teaching online only. I have absolutely zero medical leave left, but it has been worth it. I am much less stressed than I would otherwise be, and in the past month or so I have started to crawl out of this deep, dark hole I've been living in for I don't know how long. I don't even have tamoxifen to blame, so what blows?

Nevertheless, I persist.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Four Months Post-PAO

Four months, people! Four months! Seeing as how I've gotten super lazy about writing, the four-month mark seemed like a good time to pop in and say hello. My progress continues to be slow and steady, and I'm okay with that. I'm happy. Really, I am. I've been mostly crutch-free for about two weeks now, and unlike other times in my life when I haven't been able to contain my excitement over ditching the crutches, this transition happened slowly and steadily with little fanfare. I've been weaning off of crutches over the past month or so, and I'm almost done.

This recovery is about more than just crutches, though. I still have a long way to go, and when I look at it from that perspective, I feel discouraged. I still have a really hard time going from sitting to standing. If I've been sitting for more than a few minutes and get up to go somewhere (which I do frequently in my job), the first 10-15 steps are super painful, and I can barely walk. Also, I still have profound weakness in my hip flexors, and I still need to use my arms to lift my leg into the car and into bed. This is super frustrating and is one of those things where progress is happening at the excruciatingly slow pace of, like, 0.0001 mm of improvement a day.

But on the upside, I have almost no pain when I'm sitting. Before the surgery, I had pain no matter what I was doing. It was inescapable. Now I only have mild discomfort when I'm walking, but it's sooooo much better, and I have to keep reminding myself how much pain I was in before the surgery. I've also made a lot of progress with respect to my hip flexors, despite the fact that it's been slow. Since my last appointment with my orthopedist, I've been trying very hard to at least do my hip flexor exercises, and it has paid off. I'm able to go up stairs now, like a normal person (more or less) and am pretty much done with elevators. Yay! My handicapped parking tag expires at the end of this month, which means I'll have to go back to parking about four flights of stairs away from my office, and I'm okay with it!

A huge challenge is that I've been sick for over a month now. I'm finally starting to get better, but I'm still needing cough medicine to get through the night, which is ridiculous. My poor body is fighting too many battles. Probably my biggest victory over this past month has been accepting my reality and my not-exactly-textbook-perfect recovery, and being okay with it.

I've also accepted that I have this condition that I'll likely be dealing with - at various levels - for the rest of my life. But I'm so much more at peace with this than I was before because despite everything, I've been able to power my way through and live a fairly normal life. I was able to return to work after just two months, and despite the fact that I was self-conscious about teaching on crutches, I did it, and it wasn't nearly the big deal I had made it out to be in my mind. For all my students know, I've never been able to walk without crutches, and to them it's just part of me. I enjoy the look of surprise on their faces when they see me just... walking. Like a normal person.

October 11th: 13 weeks and two days post-arthroscopy, 12 weeks and two days post-PAO
Preparing to make my last trip across campus on two crutches!

October 16th: 14 weeks post-arthroscopy, 13 weeks post-PAO
Preparing to head across campus with just one crutch

The crutch is just kind of a part of my life.
(And it's okay. :))

As Christian has been asking me to do for so long now, I've finally learned how to go easy on myself. And it's a great feeling.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Three Months Post-PAO

Alright, I've been slacking. I've been spending a lot of time - probably too much time - with my Facebook PAO group, which fulfills a lot of the same purpose as writing here. I'm sharing all my challenges, frustrations, and [small] victories there. I've also been busy working, coaching, and getting back to my normal life. Wait... did I say getting back to my normal life? Whoa. OMG, is that really true?! It's hard to believe, but it is really true. It is mostly good, and I've slipped back into my normal life with little fanfare or celebration; it just kind of happened. And it's great. Unfortunately, I find myself at the end of most days with little left in the tank, and I just drop into bed, exhausted to the bone. I guess the upside of this is that until I contracted a horrid cough about 10 days ago, I was managing to go to bed with no prescription drugs, which might sound small, but is something I haven't really been able to do for several years.

Anyway, when I say 'my normal life,' that's somewhat of an exaggeration. Also, keep in mind that I don't even know what 'normal' is anymore. I'm still trying to find that 'new normal.' BUT. I'm back at work, trekking across campus with just one forearm crutch (so it's really more like a cane, only not a cane, which is one of things I just can't do), coaching diving at nights, and generally feeling about as good as I did before these hip surgeries. I'm not going to lie, it has been one hell of a recovery, but I do feel like I'm starting to finally turn some metaphorical corner.

Over a week ago, I went up to see my surgeon for my three-month follow-up. I was going through a rough patch at the time, as I was frustrated by my inability to completely ditch the crutches. Apparently both my surgeon and my PT (though to a lesser extent) are in the 'two crutches or no crutches' camp, as they believe using just one crutch makes you walk weird. I do walk some at PT with a cane, or 'gait enhancement device,' as my PT calls it, because even that little extra tap of the cane on the ground is enough to ease my brain's panic and even out my gait. But - and call me vain if you must - I just can't do the cane in public. So one forearm crutch is my compromise. I'm not sure if this is medically acceptable, but I figure no one needs to know. lol. Around the house, I'm pretty much not using anything these days. I do have a slight limp, and I know I'm not supposed to be walking with a limp, but geez, after over three months on crutches, you just get to a point where enough is enough. Seriously, y'all, my shoulders are killing me after so long on crutches.

So anyway, I was nervous for my appointment, because Dr. Terminator makes me nervous, and I felt like I wasn't as far along as they were expecting I would be. I even texted Christian ahead of time to let him know I was nervous, so at least he knew I was going to be super needy, haha. It didn't help that I was super duper sick at the appointment, too. I mentioned earlier that I got a terrible cough that I just couldn't get rid of, then I coughed myself into a terrible case of laryngitis that caused me to have to cancel class the day before (which was only my second canceled class in over eight years). Despite heavy meds, I hadn't been able to get more than a few hours of sleep per night. Add into that a horrid two-hour drive through insane traffic up to see Dr. Terminator, and I was in a pretty pissy mood by the time I arrived.

Then, the appointment started off the wrong way with one of his new fellows, who was wearing a low-cut lingerie type of tank top, short skirt, and cowboy boots. I mean... really? Then she asked me to describe what activities I had been doing lately, and that just rubbed me the wrong way. Activities? Like... did she really think I'd rattle of a list of activities? Oh yes, I just ran a marathon, getting ready for my first Ironman! I mean, what the what? So I gynosplained to her that I'd been spending most of my rehab time doing damage control on other parts of my body, and I really wasn't doing any 'activities' other than just surviving my daily life. Then she looked over my X-rays with me, and told me they looked great, even though to me they looked exactly the same as they did six weeks ago. Then Dr. Terminator came in and upon seeing me and hearing how awful I sounded sat across the room from me giving me the stink eye. Okay so maybe he wasn't REALLY giving me the stink eye, and I totally understand and respect that he didn't want to get sick from me, but it just didn't add any warm fuzzies to the situation.

Fortunately, Christian was also there and was my hero. I think our brief text exchange had prepared him for what a fragile state I was in. When he came in the room, he smiled and said, 'Hi sweetie!' and put his hand on my shoulder and immediately started to reassure me that everything looked good, and this recovery is a long process, and I'm exactly where I need to be. It's just that I'm older than a lot of patients, and am going to recover more slowly, and I'm also peri-menopausal, 'so there's a lot going on down there.' I'm not sure exactly what he meant by that, except maybe I'm feeling overly emotional? I don't know.

Dr. Terminator also thought my X-rays looked good - in fact, 'perfect' - but was concerned about my continuing inability to flex my thigh. I'm still having to use my arms to lift my leg into the car, into bed, etc. Jerry and I have only begun to address this issue in PT just because I've had so much pain in other parts of my body - namely my left hip and my back. I've been telling people it's as if I have a fixed amount of pain in my body that just keeps moving around. I need an exorcist or something. LOL. Dr. Terminator seemed slightly baffled that I still have this 'profound weakness of the iliopsoas' (how he described it in the post-visit write-up), and suggested that my physical therapist might not be the best, which sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Jerry has been an absolute godsend throughout this, and it was as if Dr. Terminator had no clue what hell I've been through with this rehab. He also seemed somewhat dismissive of the pain in my left hip, which sort of irked me seeing as how he knows that hip is bad, too; in fact, he's the one who told me I need to have this same series of surgeries on that hip ASAP. Ultimately, he concluded that the damage to my hip flexors must be the result of the epidural - apparently that's a thing - since such a major loss of function is rare. (Lucky me.) He gave me some exercises to do, regardless of what I'm doing at PT, and told me to be religious about doing them, as I'm going to have to put in some extra effort to get that function back. However, he assured me the function would come back, as the nerves and muscles are intact, which he determined by the fact that I can slide my leg up to about 90 degrees when I'm lying on my back - the same as during my first post-op appointment.

I'm not sure why, but the brief interaction just made me feel sort of crappy, like I was doing everything wrong, not working hard enough at PT, etc. I really don't think Dr. Terminator meant to make me feel bad or anything, he just did. I think Christian could tell I was feeling really down, and stayed with me for a long time after Dr. Terminator left. I really appreciated that, even though everything he said to try to make me feel better actually made me feel worse. Like, he told me that my pain wasn't real, it was just that my body was interpreting my weakness as pain. I know he was trying to reassure me that once I get stronger, I'll feel better, but of course I interpreted it as not only am I weak, but the pain is all just a figment of my imagination. I know he didn't mean it that way; in fact, Jerry has explained pain to me in a similar way, it just didn't make me feel shitty like when Christian said it.

Ironically, when Christian gave me a suggestion, and I responded, 'I'll try,' he replied, 'Do or do not. There is no try.' LOL. I did get the Star Wars reference, but I was so worked up I don't think I acknowledged it, then Christian clumsily tried to explain it, and I think he felt like a jerk. The final straw was when he noted that I was still limping (apparently the medical term is 'antalgic gait') and said he wanted me to continue using crutches indefinitely until I don't limp at all. He also said that's why my left hip and back were hurting, which isn't true, because they started to hurt long before I was even close to getting off the crutches. This also upset me because I really felt like I was walking well, and was proud I had managed to get up to the appointment from the parking lot without crutches, only to be told this wasn't the right thing to do. Argh. I was on the verge of tears the whole time, then after I left the appointment I DID cry, and basically couldn't stop crying the whole rest of the day. Maybe it is just peri-menopausal emotions running high, but I felt so defeated. And tired. Tired physically, emotionally, and whatever other -ally types of tired exist.

So, it was not the greatest visit, but as I write this over a week later, I'm already past it. It's water under the bridge. Aside from the fact that I'm STILL SICK - seriously, my body just doesn't have enough energy to grow bone, fight cancer, and take care of a stupid cough - I'm feeling pretty optimistic. Around the house, I'm pretty much crutch free, and I get around well with my crutch-cane for most other activities. The one exception is that I'm still using two crutches to get to diving practice, as I have to trek a very long way from the car to the pool. My pain is now well-managed with PT exercises, heat/ice, ibuprofen, dry-needling, and regular massages. Besides some stiffness and soreness, I feel good, and no worse than I did before these surgeries.

I was disappointed not to get to talk about when I can get my screws out or when I can schedule the next round of surgeries for my left side, but I do understand and respect Dr. Terminator and Christian's desire to just focus on one thing at a time, and realize I should probably do the same. This process is definitely testing my patience, but I feel like I'm finally in a good place, in that I'm at peace with where I am in terms of my progress. While I'd like to be completely crutch-free, my disability isn't affecting my ability to live my life and do all of my normal, everyday activities, and that's actually an amazing feeling.

Monday, October 9, 2017

In Search of Gratitude Lost

In case you didn't catch it, the title of this post is a play on the title À la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, a book that I had the great fortune (not; that's sarcasm) of reading in college. In French. It's not actually the most accurate title for this post, but I just couldn't resist.

Anyhoo, one of my friends posted an article on Facebook yesterday that ended up being a game-changer for me. I'm pretty picky about about the articles I read from my Facebook feed, but I'm a sucker for certain types of articles, especially the ones that tell you how you can be happier and lead a better life, and blah freaking blah. This particular article promised happiness based on actual science, which has double appeal for me. Yeah, dudes, I'm sooooo all over that! A SCIENTIFIC FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS? What's not to love about that?

But the interesting thing about the article is that it suggests four things that I pretty much already do:
  1. Be thankful. Or at least TRY to come up with reasons to be thankful. Even just LOOKING for reasons to be thankful has the same effect on your neurotransmitters as ACTUALLY being thankful. 
  2. Label your negative emotions. Apparently if you can describe your awful feelings in words, your brain doesn't care about them as much. 
  3. Make a decision. It doesn't have to be THE BEST DECISION EVER, just 'good enough.' Just do it. 
  4. Hug people. Touching other people is good. If you can't don't hug, get a massage.
Upon reading it, it struck me that I'm actually pretty happy. I've written before how much I enjoy my 40s. But looking back, there are a lot of things about my 40s that have sucked. I welcomed in my 40s recovering from hip surgery and DVT. At about 40.5 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I dealt with that for over a year, and then I had more hip surgeries. So basically my 40s have been lots of bad medical news and lots of surgeries. Yet... I'm pretty happy. I mean, dude, WTF? 

But ya know, I think I have the first three points here covered. Weirdly enough, all the medical crises have given me a lot for which to be grateful. Before my medical crises, I don't feel like I was ungrateful, but I do think maybe I was complacent. When everything is copacetic, you don't necessarily make time to be thankful, express gratitude. You take your blessings for granted. But when you're faced with Big Things, you start thinking things like, I'm so glad I found this doctor; thank goodness my physical therapist noticed my swollen leg; I'm thankful I caught this early; I'm grateful this nurse advocated for me; I'm so happy to be out of hospital; I'm so glad that's over. And apparently, your brain doesn't know the difference between Thank God that lesion on my rib isn't cancer and Thank God I'm a billionaire and I'm gorgeous and famous and have a huge house! It's all the same to your brain. I also think when you're faced with Big Things, you start looking for silver linings, any positive news you can cling to. And apparently even just LOOKING for positive things has the same effect as Thank God I'm a billionaire and I'm gorgeous and famous and have a huge house! 

With regards to the second point - putting your negative emotions into words - I think that's why I write here. I always knew that writing had a therapeutic effect for me, and this makes perfect sense. Putting my thoughts into words puts my mind at ease. 

Likewise for third point - making decisions. I'm a high stress person, and even decisions about stupid, trivial things stress me out. But once I make a decision, I don't look back. I'm so relieved the decision has been made, I don't have the energy to look back, nor reflect on whether the decision I made was the best. What's done is done. I used to see this as a weakness, not having enough energy to revisit my decisions. But then again, maybe my brain just understands that making a decision, even if it's not THE BEST decision, is better than making no decision at all, as long as that decision is 'good enough.' 

As for the fourth point, I don't do the hugging thing. Never have, and probably never will. But, I love massages! Ha ha. Interestingly, I woke up on Friday of last week in a world of pain. Something I did on Thursday afternoon just destroyed my back, and even walking with crutches was causing me a lot of grief. This was particularly upsetting because I'm right at the three month mark and feel like the crutches need to go, but my back and my left hip are giving me just as much trouble as my right hip, which is making it super hard to progress in PT. Fortunately, Friday morning was also when I read the article about being happy. It made me think to myself, Now there's a good idea - I should go get a massage! I called two different massage therapists - one Jerry recommended to me who works part-time out of their PT office, and another I saw when I was recovering from breast reconstruction (which also destroyed my back). The one I'd seen before didn't have any openings for a week (!!!), so apparently I'm not the only one who loves massages. LOL. However, the woman that Jerry recommended could get me in at 2:30 on Friday.

Best. Decision. Ever. Normally I'd hem and haw over spending that much money, but I was inspired by the happiness article and my pain level was pretty out of control. So see, I killed two birds with one stone! Sharon was AMAZING. During the massage, I didn't feel like she was pushing hard enough, but as Jerry explained, the latest research shows that if you push too hard (e.g., elbow in the back, like I usually prefer), it will actually make the muscle feel threatened, and it will push back and actually tighten up. He felt that Sharon applies just the right amount of pressure, and wow, he was right. I got up to leave, and oh my gosh, I felt so damn good, I could have walked out of there with no limp and no crutches (except that I had to, you know, get the crutches out of there, and I felt stupid carrying them). Considering I had dragged myself into the appointment in massive pain even with crutches, that was a pretty amazing turnaround.

Then when I got out to the car, I checked my voice mail, and apparently massage therapist #2 had a cancellation, and said he could see me on Saturday. So I called him back and took that appointment, too! Just because. Because of the article. LOL. I felt amazing for the rest of the weekend, and thought maybe this week would be my coming off crutches week, but I decided not to push it. And it's a good thing that I didn't, because today at work my back started acting up again. Grrrrrr, it's so frustrating! Fortunately, I have another appointment on Thursday with Sharon. In a way, it feels sort of extravagant, but at the same time, it's practically a medical necessity. Plus, you know, it makes me happier. There's actual science here, people.

People will often tell you that happiness is a state of mind and yada yada yada, and it's hard to accept that when you're in the throes of a crisis. But happiness explained in these terms makes more sense to me. It also makes me feel like I'm not delusional or in a state of deep denial to have remained relatively happy throughout all of this crap. Sometimes when I explain my medical history to people, they look at me with pity - hell, even some doctors do, and you know they see a lot of shit - but I really don't feel that sorry for myself. I'm grateful for so much. And although this recovery seems to be going on forever and ever and freaking ever, I'm grateful that I'm recovering (even if slowly), that I have a good support system in place (family, friends, Internet groups), that I have good insurance and good medical care (trustworthy surgeon, responsive PA, fantastic PT), and that I have the financial means to splurge every once in a while on something that makes me feel better (occasional retail therapy, massages).

Going forward, I vow to make a note every day of my blessings. I hope you feel them, too. Thank you for being here with me. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sometimes it is just easier to forgive.

I've been feeling strangely emotional all day, on the verge of bawling my eyes out. Yesterday I intended to write a happy post about how I was able to walk around my house and even from my office to the copy machine, and how it wouldn't be long before I was walking again. And then this morning, I woke up and both my hips hurt quite a bit, because I've been overdoing it, pushing myself too hard. I went to PT and I was so excited about walking that I ignored the pain and went to my appointment without crutches, just to show Jerry that I could walk. Of course he remarked immediately that I wasn't walking right, and that I really needed to keep using the crutches, or at least a cane. (Um, no thanks to the cane.) I was in pain the rest of the day, to the extent that I came home from work and popped an oxycodone. Now I'm settled down on the couch with my heating pad, writing this. The roller coaster.

But that's not why I want to bawl, nor what I came here to write about. My mind is elsewhere. 

When I got into work this morning, I turned on my computer and went straight to e-mail. I had an e-mail from a colleague informing the department that he has cancer. Esophageal cancer. OMG. I don't know anything about esophageal cancer, but I'm pretty sure it can't be good. I sat for a minute and processed the information, then started to cry a little. 

But you know what the weird thing is? This isn't a colleague I'm friends with. I hesitate to use the word enemy, but if I had one, he would be it. In fact, at the end of the the spring semester, in April, he and I and another colleague got into a huge fight during a committee meeting that landed us all in mediation and ended with the entire department in kumbaya-type meetings with outside mediators. For a few weeks, I cried a lot, and I was so angry I started looking for another job and plotting ways I could screw the department over. LOL. We have hardly spoken since then, except insofar as we have to to do our jobs, which has been about two sentences at a department meeting. Literally. At some point during the hoopla, my Chair came to me and told me that for what it was worth, TJ felt really bad, and since he wasn't sure if TJ would ever apologize to me, he wanted me to know that TJ was genuinely sorry. At the time, I said I didn't want an apology because it wouldn't mean anything after all that TJ has put me and some of my colleagues through, and I didn't ever want to talk to him again - which is awkward, because our offices are right next to each other, but whatever.  

Over the summer, I let go of a lot of the anger simply because I had to. Seriously y'all, I am so dang tired, and anger just takes so much energy. Also, considering all that my department has done for me through the turmoil of the past four years, I can't complain. I know of plenty of people who have lost their jobs over just one health crisis, and I've kept my job with full pay and a lot of time off and/or reduced workloads through three different health issues. I am truly grateful for that. 

The interesting thing about TJ is that while he is truly a jerk to me and many of my colleagues about 90% of the time, he has always had a soft spot when it comes to health issues. And it is very genuine. Like, he's either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that he causes people to suffer emotionally, but as soon as you present with something physical, he is genuinely concerned about your well-being. The discordance is quite remarkable, practically mind-boggling. Both I and my colleague, who had to have a hip replacement a few years ago, have noticed this for quite some time now. When I was recovering from my breast reconstruction, another colleague texted me something along the lines of I know you and TJ don't get along, but he is genuinely concerned about you. He is constantly asking me for updates on how you're doing. What can I say, people are weird, complex, and incomprehensible beings. 

To add an interesting twist to this situation, I mentioned previously that I worked out a last-minute offload so that I'm only teaching 3/4 time this semester. TJ's wife, who also works in the department part-time, is the person who took over my fourth class for me, so we've been working together pretty closely. It's slightly awkward, but she's actually a sweetheart (I can't for the life of me figure out their relationship), and we are both professionals, so it has been fine.  

I knew something was up because on Friday of last week, TJ's wife asked me to cover her exam for her on Monday. She said needed to take TJ to the doctor, and it was an appointment where he needed someone to be with him. She apologized that it was last-minute, but said it was something that had just come up, so I figured it was something semi-serious. Seeing as how she was asking me to cover a class that was supposed to be mine, of course I immediately said yes. I have to admit that I was slightly curious, but I didn't pry, because I'm not a prying type of person, and even if I were, we don't have that type of relationship. 

On Tuesday, TJ and I passed each other in the hall. Usually we both look down at the floor and avert our eyes so we don't have to acknowledge each other. But to my surprise, he stopped and smiled at me, and commented on how much better I was getting around. Then, somewhat awkwardly, he said, 'I've heard such fantastic things about you from [my wife]. She is so impressed with how organized you are and how you run the class. She says you are so great to work with.' And the thing is, he was very genuine; there's no reason he had to say anything, seeing as how we've been looking away from each other when we pass in the hallway for, like, eight years now. LOL. The other weird thing is that during this interaction he actually seemed... happy? I'm not sure if that's quite it, but it was definitely something different from his usual grumpy demeanor. And I say that without judgement, as I, too, have a grumpy demeanor, so that's actually one thing we have in common.

I think I stared at him for a couple of seconds with my mouth open. I was actually pretty embarrassed by this shocking olive-branch offering, but I did my best to remain cool, and thanked him, told him how grateful I was to his wife for stepping in at the last minute, then continued crutching down the hall. After further reflection, I figured he must have gotten good news at his doctor appointment. But, in fact, it was the opposite. 

And now this. 

I've been crying on and off as I'm writing this, and I don't understand why. It is hitting me even harder than when my good friend told me she has breast cancer. I guess when it's a friend and someone you love, you know how to feel and what to do; you just feel sad and sorry, and you offer to bring meals, drink wine together, whatever the friend needs. It is tough emotionally, but at least there's an accepted reaction in place. 

But this. This is different. Since my own cancer diagnosis, I started following cancer blogs. Several of those bloggers have passed away, and I've been surprised by how emotional I've felt about it. In fact, my post about Ashleigh Range is the most viewed post of all the posts I've written here. With cancer and hip dysplasia, some of the deepest and most meaningful connections you make to people are on the Internet, because the people in your everyday life just don't understand what you're going through. It's hard to know how to mourn appropriately when an 'Internet only' friend passes away, because there aren't protocols in place for that. I feel like this is similar territory. How do you react appropriately for someone you don't get along with - someone who has, quite honestly, harassed you and treated you awfully, but yet someone you care about and want to support, because after all is said and done, you're both human, and esophageal cancer isn't something you'd wish on anyone? There aren't protocols for that. 

I keep thinking back to our exchange on Tuesday and wondering what must be going through TJ's mind right now. While my own prognosis has been as good as it can possibly be when it comes to cancer, I know that a cancer diagnosis, no matter how 'good,' changes you. I know some people can say definitively how cancer changed them - for better or for worse - but I'm one of those who feels more ambiguous. I don't understand the ways in which cancer has changed me, I just know that it has. And I know for sure that in the early stages of the diagnosis, where TJ is right now, when you don't know the details of the cancer - what grade, what stage - all sorts of things go through your head as you contemplate your own mortality. You reflect on all the things for which you're grateful, the things that make you bitter, the people you love, the people you despise, the things you regret doing, the things you regret not doing, the things you hope to do, the things you wish you hadn't done, the person you are, the person you wished you had been, the life you have, the life you didn't have. It is nonstop. And it is so, so hard. That much, I know. 

And I now know my interaction with TJ on Tuesday was some response to this crisis you go through when you're diagnosed. I understand that's his apology to me that he never gave me earlier in the year. And I want to say, I forgive you, but how can you do that when someone doesn't actually tell you they're sorry? 

Just a few days ago, I watched a video that has gone semi-viral on social media about a woman who was an Auschwitz survivor. The video documented her process of forgiving the Nazis who killed her family and performed experiments on her and her twin sister. My response to the friend who posted the video was an immediate and definitive, That woman is a better person than I am. And it's true. I cannot imagine. I truly cannot. At the same time, the message was that forgiveness is power. That woman found power in her ability to forgive even the most unspeakable acts that have been done in the history of humanity. I have no idea how, but she did. She felt that was more powerful than clinging to her much-deserved anger and bitterness. It was her choice, and she chose forgiveness. 

My situation isn't even in the same universe as that woman's story, so please don't interpret this as me comparing having a jerk of a colleague to that of an Auschwitz survivor. I hope that those of us who can specifically relate to such horrific acts will be few and far between. Instead, I want to focus on the message of forgiveness. That message resonates with me, and helps guide my feelings, and how to respond appropriately. 

There are unspoken words here, but I know they're something like this:

I'm sorry.
It's okay; I forgive you, and I'm so sorry you're going through this. I truly want to be here for you and your wife.

Cancer. It sucks. Suckity, suckity, sucks. And as a 'survivor' - at least for now - I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I weren't there for someone who's going through this awful experience, no matter our past relationship.

Maybe it's just selfish, but sometimes it's just easier to forgive.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


I had a surprisingly great day today, so I just have to document it. I worry that this blog is too much WOE IS ME, so I should make an effort to write about the good days, lest you get the impression I'm all gloom and doom (even though I am, hahaha).

I can't begin to describe the level of exhaustion I've felt over the past week. My body is still adjusting to going back to work, and on top of this, it's exam week, so I've been grading, grading, grading, and more grading. Also, yesterday, I had to cover a class for a colleague. The class was one that was originally mine, but that I passed off to aforementioned colleague, so when she asked me to sit in for her due to a family issue, I could hardly say no. Even though it was just an exam - so literally, all I had to do was SIT there - it exhausted me, and I came home and took an hour-long nap.

Then, today, I had to go back to another class that another colleague has been covering for me. So basically this was my first FULL week back. I was super nervous about going back to this particular class, because it's my nemesis class, and no matter what I do the students seem to hate me or the class or both. Also, the colleague who was covering it for me gets way better teaching evaluations than I do (granted, she has never taught this particular class before), so I was nervous the students would be bummed I was back. Plus, I'm not exactly feeling super confident clunking into the class on crutches and all, ya know? AND on top of all of this, today's material was possibly theeeee most boring material I cover in the entire course. I can't think of a worse way to come back than to show up on crutches, return exams (which always pisses some people off), and then talk about cell membranes and free energy change and entropy and thermodynamics for three freaking hours. >:-(

BUT! The class went really well, and my students seemed super enthusiastic and engaged - or at least as engaged as you can be about thermodynamics. (Snore.) At the end of class, a couple students sort of shouted out, 'Thank you, Waning!' Like... for what? Showing up to class and lecturing? Last I checked, that's my job. LOL. But it was very sweet, like they were really happy I was back. (This class is second semester intro biology, so I've had many of them before. And to be fair to myself, I did my very hardest to make the lecture as entertaining as humanly possible, complete with pictures of divers, my son at the top of a climbing wall, myself jumping out of a swing, and failed human towers.) My students' enthusiasm totally made my day! It actually energized me and made me feel happy to be back, rather than counting down the days until the end of the semester, which is what I'm normally doing around this time in the semester.

And OMG, despite the morale boost, I came home and graded and graded, then took an hour-long nap. And then I graded some more. And now I'm soooooo ready for bed, but I'm feeling very happy and optimistic nonetheless.

As self-conscious as I feel about my situation, I'm learning to accept it, and even embrace some aspects of it. I don't have an openly warm fuzzy personality, and a lot of times my students find me somewhat cold and standoffish. Not that I want to play the WOE IS ME card, but... sometimes you need some extra help. LOL. While I'm feeling vulnerable, they're seeing me as more human. They don't necessarily know a lot of details about my ordeal, but they do know it was enough that I missed a month of class and now I still can't walk, yet I'm there for them anyway. What's humbling for me might just be a good thing.

Silver linings, silver linings. It's at least something to cling to for the moment.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Half an Inch of Water

This roller coaster. Wow.

Just earlier tonight, I started composing this entry in my head, about how defeated I am feeling. I am just so damn exhausted all of the time, and completely overwhelmed with work. But I keep pushing through. I'm trying to eat well, rest when I can, do my PT exercises when I can, and I honestly feel like I can't push myself any harder. Yet, my recovery continues to be painfully slow.

Today, I spent most of the day on the couch, grading. UGH. I absolutely, positively DESPISE grading. While grading, I was also semi-watching some minimally interesting college football games and icing, heating, doing my isometric contractions, self-massage, and riding the stationary bike during my breaks. At the end of the day, I was frustrated by how much my hips hurt, considering how much attention they got today. My husband had already made dinner and put the kids to bed, so I figured it was my job to do the dishes. I had a serious set-back last weekend when I was trying to clean up the house before my husband got back from his week-long business trip. Bending over to empty/load the dishwasher and do laundry caused major spasms in my back that were just awful. AWFUL. I didn't have the energy to write about it, but I'm just now feeling back to where I was prior to this episode, so I'm paranoid about bending over too much. I know, it sounds like a handy excuse, huh? So I decided to be proactive and take some pain meds - half a valium and an oxycodone. I hate doing this, because I'm trying to wean off the heavy meds, and it feels like going backwards, but... whatever.

And what do you know, now I feel fantastic. I noticed just how fantastic I felt when I was picked up my computer off the couch to take it to my desk so I could charge it. I had a bunch of stuff to carry, and my desk wasn't too far away, so I decided to leave the crutch behind. And I just walked to my desk, almost like a normal person, with minimal pain. Just like that. No thinking, no psyching up, no concentrating on tightening my core and squeezing my glutes, like I have been working on in PT. I just did it. And in those 15 steps or so, all my frustrations from the day just melted away.

Moments like this are awesome, but there's still that element of OMG I cannot handle these ups and downs. That's what's getting me. Emotionally, I'm wrung out, running on empty. I realize that given my personality, the alternative to feeling emotional ups and downs is for me to be feeling down all the time, and trust me, I don't want to go there. But at the same time, feeling so many peaks and valleys each and every day is tough in its own way. I feel like a moody teenager, and god I hated being a teenager. You couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back there.

I think the frustrating thing is that if I think about things logically, I know I'm making progress. However, I still have such a long way to go. And as much as I try to stay in the moment, I cannot help but think forward to my next round of surgeries on my left side, and that gets me so super depressed I cannot put it into words. Part of me is learning to accept my life on crutches for what it is and not get worked up about the fact that it has been two and a half months since my surgeries and I still can't walk, yet another part of me gets overly excited about walking from one room to another and can't wait to get rid of them. It's all so confusing to the emotional headquarters in my brain. LOL.

All that said, I am going to try my best to stay positive, so I thought it might help to make a list of some milestones. Here are some things that I can do that I could absolutely not do when I started PT approximately three weeks ago.
  • I can walk a little, like I just wrote about. When I started PT, I couldn't even take one step without coming close to falling over.
  • I can get around well on crutches. It is still tiring, but nothing like the drop-dead exhaustion I felt the first day I went back to teaching. I can also get around very well with just one crutch, which I'm not exactly supposed to do, but my PT agreed it's okay to cheat sometimes, as long as I focus on not leaning and keeping my gait nice and even.
  • My energy levels have improved greatly. Although I'm still exhausted all of the time, it's because I'm doing so, so much. I'd be exhausted even without this whole hip ordeal. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that my energy levels feel close to normal.
  • I can lift my leg a little now. I can lift it up far enough to get my foot into my car, which I couldn't do at all three weeks ago. This isn't even something we've worked on in PT, just something that is coming back with time and healing.
  • My range of motion has improved a lot. I can now touch my foot and put shoes other than my slip-on clogs on. I'm still using my old-lady contraption to put my right sock on, but I'm definitely getting closer to being able to do without it. This is also something we haven't worked on in PT - I think my therapist is paranoid about pushing me on range of motion - it's just something that has come with time and healing.
  • I have most of the feeling in my thigh back. It is still a little numb, but it's definitely improved, and the weird, throbbing pains I used to get are mostly gone.
  • My pain levels, though they wax and wane, are generally very manageable. Most of my pain feels muscular, and I don't feel a lot of pain coming from my hip joint. Overall, I don't think my pain levels are much worse than they were pre-surgery. So that is amazing. 
This is all so hard, I can't even TRY to describe it. And even if I tried, I wouldn't expect anyone to understand what it's like. In so many ways, this is so much harder than cancer. But at the same time, the fact that I'm getting through this, and finding multiple coping mechanisms, and pulling strength out of every nook and cranny of my body that I can just to get through the day, gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment that I also can't even try to describe. 

This song, by John Prine, has long been one of my favorites. But now, more than ever, I feel like this is my life. 

I was sittin' in the bathtub just countin' my toes
When the radiator broke, water all froze
I was stuck in the ice without my clothes
Naked as the eyes of a clown
I was cryin' ice cubes, hopin' I'd croak
When the sun came through the window, the ice all broke
I stood up and laughed, I thought it was a joke
That's the way that the world goes 'round

That's the way that the world goes 'round
You're up one day, the next you're down
It's a half-an-inch of water and you think you're gonna drown
That's the way that the world goes 'round.

And there you have it. This is life. This is my half inch of water. Half an inch of water won't drown me, but it can make me slip and fall and set me back. So I must proceed cautiously, yet optimistically, knowing that I'm going to be okay.