How my mom lost 12 pounds in a day

It’s the end of October, and I can’t let this month go by without revisiting a bit of Wise health history.

It all started in the summer of 2006. Mom had been told she could skip her mammogram in 2005 because she’d had so many normal ones. So, she went in for her routine test, hating how much those things hurt and how the nurses made a big deal of her large breasts.

Mom got a call from her doctor to come back into the office. When she walked into the office, there were images of her breasts all over the walls. The doctor showed her what he saw and said he was concerned. Mom came out and told dad what the doctor said, and dad was adamant that she not ignore this. She was scheduled for a biopsy. Then another. Every time the doctors went in to biopsy a nodule, they found a different one. It got so crazy they had to start flagging the ones they’d already tested. All told, there were at least 16 nodes the size of pearls that needed to be addressed.

In the midst of the biopsies, the nurses wouldn’t tell us what they thought was wrong. They just looked at mom with sad eyes, tried to hand her pamphlets to ease her anxiety. Mind you, she was anxious already about having her breasts bored into — her doctor had prescribed her Xanax just to get through the procedures. (That was actually a lot of fun for me. She was hilarious!) After one of the biopsies, I’d had enough. I thrust a pamphlet back under the nurse’s nose. The pamphlet said “How to cope with breast cancer,” like a trifold handout could begin to scratch the surface of that topic. I asked her, quite forcefully I’m told, “Is THIS what we’re talking about here? Why won’t you just SAY IT?!” The answer: “Most likely. But we don’t like to scare the patients.”

In the coming weeks, “most likely” became “definitely.” Lucky for mom, the cancer was in situ, Latin for “in place.” So, while there were many cancerous spots, they weren’t likely to metathesize. There was a good deal of clearance between where they’d found the nodes and where they’d have to cut, so the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body was minimal. Still, not being the type to tell you what you have to do, the doctors offered her the option of many lumpectomies or a mastectomy. 

When you’re a J cup, you have limited options

For those of you who don’t know mom, or who didn’t know her way back when, she was what you’d consider a large-chested woman. She was, in fact, a J cup. Yep, they really make them that big. She had big grooves in her shoulders from years of bra straps cutting into her, and she had to special-order her undergarments from England.

Here’s the thing about being a large-breasted woman facing breast cancer: You have to consider the balance of what’s left. Sure, mom could’ve had several lumpectomies, but with the experience she’d had going in for so many biopsies and always finding more problems, she wasn’t about to risk her life on balanced breasts. So she said she wanted a mastectomy. That’s when the plastic surgeon took a look at mom’s chest, the rib cage her breasts had permanently reshaped and the amount of work ahead — and threw in the towel.

Mom’s remaining breast was so large that the plastic surgeon could not safely insert enough silicone to balance mom back out. And they couldn’t even give her less than what she’d had because her rib cage was sunken from the weight of D+ cups since the age of 12. So, she had to choose to keep them both or cut them off. She had a long talk with dad, and they agreed — cut them off. Thanks to the sheer size of her breasts, mom went from an in situ diagnosis to a double mastectomy procedure in a matter of weeks.

That’s how mom lost 12 pounds in a day back in November 2006 — her breasts alone weighed about that much. In the weeks that followed, she suffered intense pain as fluid from the surgery drained into grenades she (and dad and I) had to empty almost constantly. She powered through it and never once showed any mourning for her lost chest. As soon as she could, she got fitted for external falsies. I’ll never forget the sound of her laughing as she told me she got “Bs for every day, Cs for special occasions and a set of Ds just for dad.” She sounded free.

And get this: Doctors tend to run tests on everything they cut off of people, just to see what would’ve happened. The tissue of the breast that didn’t have any nodes in it? Turns out there was the very beginnings of the worst kind of breast cancer imaginable. Mom saved her own life with her choice to be free of cancer rather than large-breasted.

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Come back with your shield. Or on it.

This weekend, I was a spectator at a race for the first time. And it was no ordinary race — it was a Spartan Race, and a Beast at that.

If you’ve never heard of a Spartan Race, first I have to ask how that’s possible. But basically, a Spartan Race is a dirty, muddy, wet, nasty obstacle course. Runners get no course map ahead of time, no heads up about the types of obstacles they’ll face. Heck, they don’t even know how long their particular course is going to be — they just know whether they signed up for 3+ miles (a Spartan Sprint), 8+ miles (a Super Spartan) or 13+ miles (a Spartan Beast). They added an Ultra Beast this year, which is a marathon with obstacles and is so tough you have to apply to enter. It all started with the Spartan Death Race, which was/is just… wow.

Runners can participate on their own or in teams. People in teams don’t have to stick together the entire race. But from what I can see, the attitude is simple: No dude or chick left behind.

As a spectator, I was happy to carry a change of clothes around, follow my Spartan For a Day around taking pictures and put in about 10 miles of walking on my own. The Sacramento Spartan Race group made a spectators course, which was awesome even though it was poorly marked and left us non-Spartans For a Day wandering around lost a lot. (Thus the 10 miles of walking.) We didn’t get muddy, but we got dusty and sunburned. And we made quick friends, wandering together on this farm in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, the idea of being a Spartan for a Day is a heady one. When I saw my Spartan climb over the wall to the starting line (yep, you have to climb a wall to be able to START this race), I couldn’t help but think of the famous quotes from 300, and in that moment I think I even said, “Spartan, come back with your shield. Or on it.” The emcee at the starting line quoted (and misquoted) 300 as well, and there were plenty of runners in costume — I saw Leonidas and Gorgo leave the starting gate with my Spartan.

I had a lot of time to think during the 5 hours from that starting line until my Spartan crossed the finish. First, I thought about the oddity of this event. This is a race based on a movie that was based on a comic book that was based on a movie that was based on a historical event. (Go ahead, think that one through.)

Then, I thought about what was making these people put themselves through this. And as I watched them trudge through mud, climb ropes and hills and all sorts of things, I realized — I wanted to join them.

Maybe it was the men and women in far worse shape than me, trudging their way under barbed wire through mud and over slippery walls. Maybe it was knowing I am capable now of the running part of the beast, which means I could keep up my running and train for something new. Maybe it was the primal nature of the thing — these people were risking real barbed wire, real mud, real water that was, in some cases, 6 feet deep and full of mud, even real fire.

Whatever it was, I knew I wanted it. Well, I wanted SOME of it. I didn’t want the beast, not yet. But I realized that I want to train for a sprint. I want to find out what it’s like to be a Spartan For a Day, not just a Spartan Spectator.

Eat whatever you want. Just eat a banana first

Man, I love sweets. You name it, I like it — chocolate, pies, ice cream, chocolate-covered nuts, gluten-free cupcakes and cookies. (Ok, I like the gluten-filled ones, too.) And that’s my trouble.

Even though I’m exercising more than I was a month ago, the numbers on the scale are slowly climbing, thanks to overindulging in pre-Halloween candy, pumpkin pie, ice cream. All times of day, I’ve noshed — not always because I’m hungry. I just want sweets.

I’ve been through this before, so I thought back — how did I fend it off? And I realized, I really haven’t. In fact, the only time my sweet tooth was in check was when I was little.

When I was a kid I lived with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on a 3 acre plot of country Delaware land. My Pop-Pop (grandfather) was on permanent disability from getting black lung in the coal mines, so he farmed more than a third of that plot.

And Pop-Pop has a sweet tooth, just like me. He stocked up on Little Debbies like some people stock rice. He always had a vat of Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer, chocolate sauce in the cabinet, Quik on the counter.

And he never once denied any of us cousins any sweet thing we wanted — as long as we ate a banana first.

Yep, a banana. Seems easy, right? I know 4-year-old me thought so, scarfing down a banana in three bites to get to the Devil Twins. And the first banana each morning was an easy way to get to chocolate milk. Then afternoon came around, and I wanted ice cream.

“Go ahead,” Pop-Pop would yell on his way out to the garden. “Just eat a banana first.”

And at first I’d try. But let me tell you, choking down the next banana, and the next, that isn’t easy. It’s downright difficult.

I didn’t eat as much sugar as a child because my grandfather had quietly made the joy of peanut butter bars less desirable than the choking dryness of a sweet banana. Who knows whether he knew what he was doing — I know it worked.

So, I’m bringing back the Banana First rule. And so far, it’s working again — last night, I got through half a banana before I ran for water instead of a candy bar. Tonight, I can’t even bring myself to look at the banana that sits between me and a fun-size Snickers.

And if I do want that chocolate bar bad enough tomorrow? I’m sure I’ll hear Pop-Pop chuckle in my head. Then I’ll eat a banana.

You can do anything for 3 minutes, and other stories I tell myself

I’ve finally gotten back into a bit of a running routine. I’m following Jeff Galloway’s training schedule for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in January 2014, but thanks to the upheaval I’ve been through these last few months I’m a little behind on training. I also modify Galloway’s training method to get through my long runs on Sundays, not Saturdays. I’m one of those people who needs to train her body what to expect. In this case, thinking “oh, it’s just another long run” on race day helps.

And there’s story #1 I tell myself.

Mantras get me through my runs

I’m a huge fan of mantras when I run, even though I don’t think “hey, it’s mantra time” or anything. I’m pretty sure someone who happens by on my running path would think I’m mentally challenged if not for the running, the gear and the sweat. (Heck, maybe even with the running, gear and sweat.) Because I talk to myself. A lot.

My favorite mantra is “You can do anything for 3 minutes.” When I first started running, it was 2 minutes, so my self-confidence is growing. I tell myself “you can do anything for 3 minutes” when I am loathing a part of my run, or I’m doing interval training and think I can’t lift my feet one more time. I’ve used it while hiking, shoveling snow, even cleaning dog poo from the floor. And I believe that story — I calm down and often forget to check the watch to see whether the 3 minutes have passed.

I noticed today that this mantra settles more than my mind. I haven’t been doing very well on nutrition, particularly following a gluten-free diet. So, telling my intestines they had to endure running for just three minutes before a break seemed to help them feel better, too.

Another one I repeat often is “get there.” Now “there” could mean a ton of things. The end of the street, the end of an interval, even the next tree or light post if I’m having an especially rough day. Often “give it to me” and “it’s mine” accompany this one, which in combination make me sound like a toddler in the throes of a tantrum. But they work.

And maybe that’s the key to mantras. They can be primal and simplistic, or supportive and rational. They just have to work.

Got a mantra that works for you? I’d love to hear it!

 

Wearing my heart on my dress

I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight in the last 6 months — I went from squeezing into larges and 12s to wearing mediums and 10s comfortably. As part of this move, I’ve gotten rid of about two-thirds of my wardrobe, and I’m still going.

Back in May, for my birthday, mom and dad came to the city to take me clothes shopping. Dad couldn’t bear the thought that I had only one dress that fit well. We spent the day shopping, and he helped me pick several amazing pieces. He’s the only person who’s ever been able to choose dresses for me — we look just alike, and he just always had a knack for it.

As I’m unpacking, I’m looking at those dresses in a whole new light. I know some of them won’t fit me as of this time next spring. So, for example, I can cling to the white lacy dress dad bought me earlier this year because he picked it, because he called me his “little girl” and laughed and smiled through unimaginable pain when I spun around in a circle and watched the dress flair out at my knees.

Or I can keep it because it really looks great on me, and I can recognize awesome memories aren’t trapped in the dresses and other stuff that happened to be around. The memories are in my heart.