The other day, while getting dressed to workout with my amazing Cancer Exercise Specialist, Laury Hale, I put on my bright pink “Marathon B4 Mastectomy” shirt. I wore this shirt proudly in June 2010 as I ran my first 1/2 marathon. I had trained physically for 6 months, and all that alone time really helped me to focus on the emotional marathon of removing my breasts. I wore it again in October 2010 — as I ran my 2nd Half Marathon in honor of the “Marathon” before mastectomy. This shirt symbolized pushing beyond my own limits and feeling supported, loved, and cared for during the 11 months leading up to my surgery.
Yet, as I stood in the mirror, my pink shirt reflecting back at me, I couldn’t help but think that I was false advertising. I had my mastectomy. I ran my marathon. How much longer could I live in the shadow of my previous body?
Working out with Laury and the other amazing cancer survivors has forced me to accept the new limits of my body. Yes, I said limits. I still feel like stranger in my own body. I am still not used to the feeling of muscles over silicone. Still not used to the pain when reaching to get a box of cereal above my refrigerator. Still not used to the lack of sensation when my hands soap my breasts.
I am under re-construction.
Folks often ask me why I drive the 30 minutes to go to a gym. I tell them that it’s not just a gym, it’s a safe haven. And, Laury isn’t just a trainer, she’s an angel. The women who bravely work out with me every Tuesday night aren’t just peers, they are warriors. I am their Ninja-in-Training.
The first night I worked out with Laury and the women, I cried. My arms were weak, my lungs were tight, and my head was spinning with self-doubt. “When did you all start to feel normal, again?” I asked. They laughed. “Honey, it ain’t ever gonna be normal again!”
It was that night when I realized I needed to find a new normal.
Throughout these workouts, Laury has challenged me to be patient with my body. “We can’t keep comparing your old body with your new body, Liza” she reminds me each week. “It moves different. It feels different. It is different. You are different. So, it’s our job to figure out how to make this new different your new normal.”
Laury runs me through stretches, and I do my best to pretend that I feel strong and confident.
“Liza, you look uncomfortable,” she says as I lay stretched backwards over one of those gigantic colorful balls. “What? Me, no. This feels … uh … it feels really good.”
“If it feels good, then why are both of your hands clenching your breasts?” she asks in her kind, yet no nonsense, voice.
I look down. Sure enough, my hands instinctively cupped across my breasts; I just couldn’t feel them doing it.
“Yeah, okay, I guess this hurts,” I quietly declare as I sit up. Some days, I feel like I’m losing this battle.
But, without skipping a beat, Laury shows me 4 other ways to stretch out the very same muscles in ways that don’t make me look like an X-Rated strip show with my hands cupping over my girl parts. Same objective; different method. She reminds me that we need to take things slowly. That, essentially, I have a new body and a new way of being.
So, as painful as it was for me to admit defeat, I have decided to not run the 1/2 Marathon on May 1st. Though the ticking of the counter on my website beckons me to get running, I admit, I’m not ready. My body isn’t ready. My heart isn’t ready. My boobies aren’t ready. Instead, I’m going to focus on training. I’m going to focus on getting stronger. I’m going to focus on becoming more patient, more accepting, and more appreciative of what my body CAN do rather than what I CAN’T do.
I am under re-construction.
Peace, love, and finding peace through love,