The Strength Within

Hi friends! It’s been a while, I know. Since my oophorectomy in January, I just haven’t quite been the same. And, now, 7 months later, I’m just finally coming out of the “fog” that I think has really been brought on by surgery: lack of hormones, dosage of hormones, a difficult recovery from an infection, fatigue, slow-thinking. But, of all these, I have been really impacted by the weight that has piled on since my oophorectomy. It’s not the most popular, nor pleasant topic, but one that has really kept me from fully engaging in blogging and writing about life post-hormones.

I’ll be real here: I’ve gained 15 lbs in the 6 months since my surgery. That means I’m heavier than when I was pregnant with my son. Heavier than I’ve ever been non-pregnant. And, my body has been feeling every pound-per-pressure. In the cycle of hormones-fatigue-weight-hormones-fatigue-weight, it has been a difficult road to walk. The good news (and my friend Maria Sullivan will be happy to read this) is that I have, yes, made an appointment with my doctor to see if my hormone levels are too low, affecting my body’s metabolism and ability to keep off weight. Update to follow!

But, as life has always sent me the right thing at the right time, I got a text message from my friend Denise last week. Denise and I met at a Cancer Fitness Program — one that was designed for women survivors (and those impacted by cancer-like surgeries) of cancer to regain strength and fitness after and during treatments. The group, for me, has always been more than just increasing the number of sit-ups or the time in a spin class. For me, this was the one event that really turned my brain around from being a physically-weak survivor of a bilateral mastectomy to someone who could tap into my inner-athlete. In fact, just 6-months after my bilateral mastectomy, I found myself nearly 20 feet high up a ropes course climbing my way on a shaky rope ladder, relying on nothing but my own mental will and the confidence I had in my body to do its job.

“Hi there. It’s Denise from Fitness Unlimited. Come out to drinks with us after our Tuesday night class,” she wrote. I called her back immediately.

Though it had been nearly 2 years since I last saw Denise, she has always been a special part of my life. After her mastectomy and battle with breast cancer, Denise always kept me thinking positive thoughts about my strength and fitness. One day, she had told me that, after her surgery, her one goal was to “lift my arms high enough over my head so that I could make a snow angel this winter.” After her mastectomy, and mine as well, we had limited range of motion in our chest and arms.

By that following winter, I made a snow angel.  And though the image quickly melted, that feeling has stayed with me to this day. 

I grew stronger after my mastectomy, easily reaching above the refrigerator top where I kept my children’s favorite cereals. I could carry my son, age 4, to his bed after he fell asleep on the couch. I could easily lift heavy air conditioners in and out of our windows.

After my mastectomy, I grew physically stronger and emotionally stronger. I took up running again, running faster, harder and longer throughout the summer months. I grew more brave — auditioning for a band and singing back up, then learning how to play the guitar, and then launching my own solo work. I grew more confident — enrolling in a doctoral program, producing original research, and presenting all around the country. I grew more courageous — talking more about myself publicly which led to speaking engagements and even a small part in documentary film on race and racism.

I had reached the top of the mountain, and on the other side was my next surgery: the oophorectomy that would save my life from the risk of ovarian cancer but would launch my body into a soft, tired, and older version of who I was just months prior.

“I’m not just meeting you for drinks,” I texted back. “I’m going to go to the class!”

I hit “send” and knew I was locked in.

When I arrived at the spin class, I began to make excuses. “Go easy,” said Laury, the incredible trainer, friend, and  cancer survivor who started the program. “Be kind to yourself.”

“You’ve forgotten, Laury. I don’t know how to ‘go easy.'” I talked a tough game, but really, all I wanted to do was lay on the floor and cheer on the 10 women who not only survived cancer but who were taking back their strength and lives.

“Just pedal,” she said.

I slowly pedaled, feeling my stomach fat block my thighs from hitting a 90-degree angle on the bike. I felt my back slouch, my shoulders tense, and my feet tight in the stirrups. I cracked a few jokes, bobbed my head to the music, and shifted in my seat to avoid the sore spot on my butt that was developing on the hard bike seat.

But then, something happened.

I felt my abdominal muscles tighten. I felt my arms reach out into 2nd position as my legs quickened in cadence. I watched my hand reach out to the gear shift and increase from 10, to 11, to 12, to 13 and felt the wheels tighten. I heard my lungs fill with air and then send out a strong breath.

And I felt the strength within me awaken.

As the class ended, I felt a cool chill on my shoulder. It was an icy breeze that sent a shiver of warmth through my body. I turned around, and there was Denise, on the cycle behind me, smiling.

And, I knew, that whole time, my Snow Angel was watching over me.

Peace, love, mental will, and confidence,



Moving Towards Wellness Group 2014 (Denise is pictured smiling over my left shoulder)

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4 Responses to The Strength Within

  1. Carolyn says:

    Keep at it! Embrace the strength!

  2. Sheila says:

    Tears of joy for my idol, my dear friend, my hero (heroine? )
    Love you.

  3. Denise Sousa says:

    OK Liza, You should have said “make sure that you have tissues in hand while reading this blog” or “don’t read this at work.” This was beautifully written. I am so glad that you were able to make it to class and spend time with us after class. I hope to see you more often. You are always in my heart. Love, Denise

  4. Judy says:

    Hi Liza! My name is Judy. I was hoping you could answer a question of mine. Send me message when you get a moment! My email is judy.cohen (at) recallcenter (dot) com

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