Birdwatching

The songbirds were more vocal, bringing literal “cheer, cheer, cheer…” with the warmer weather. Vermont has to go through sticks, dead leaves and lots of mud to get to spring, but at least our fine feathered friends signal when we are heading in the right direction.

I had taken the day off. With my surgery the next morning, I wanted to tie up loose ends in order to feel grounded and centered by nightfall. Mom and I planned to spend the morning decluttering closets and the afternoon shopping for button-down and zip-up tops. It was recommended that I wear them during recovery, since I wouldn’t be able to get my arms overhead for a while.

As we stepped into my car, I heard the distinct, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie” call of a male cardinal right above my head. I’ve always loved cardinals. I looked up and said to my mother, “That’s a good sign.” She agreed. We humans are meaning-making beings and I was taking in all the positive signs I could get.

The next morning, he greeted us again. I told my family that he was “cheer-ing me on” as we headed to the hospital. Hey, doses of humor are helpful.

A while later, I arrived in the pre-op bay. I put on my hospital johnny and socks and got onto the bed. On the wall to the right of me was a framed picture of a male cardinal. Was he following me?

The day after surgery, I went downstairs to my living room. I had turned this into my

cardinalfriend

View from my rocker: Mr. Cardinal perching

downstairs “sanctuary space” where I could meditate, read, journal, relax and visit with friends and family.

I sat in my rocking chair (read why rocking is so good for you HERE!) and in less than a minute a male cardinal flew onto the holly bush directly in front of me. I let out a little laugh and smiled. I spent a few moments admiring his beauty until my two indoor cats came into the room. Within moments of their arrival, they headed straight to the window to let out their own unique chirps and chattering.

As days moved into weeks, I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) more birds arriving with the warmer weather. In addition to the cardinals, there were chickadees, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, evening grosbeaks and many more. Buds and blossoms were bursting into being. The season of renewal and new beginnings perfectly aligned with my healing.

In the mornings, the dawn chorus would temporarily wake me, signifying another day

dieselbywindow

Diesel wondering where his scarlet friend went…

had arrived. For the first couple of weeks, I’d drowsily listen and then fall fast back to sleep.

I began walking right away, as per my surgeon’s instructions. I alternated stillness and movement to harmonize optimal healing. Short walks turned into longer jaunts. Hills were added. The birds graced me with their musical serenades, aerial acrobatics and architectural creativity.

I once heard that the most important thing we have in common with all of the creatures of Earth is our breath. We are all breathing right now. We are Life. Try and be a little more present in yours today. I know that I certainly will.

What helped: Watching birds through the window and on my walks. Listening to the dawn chorus and giving thanks for the new day ahead (before falling back asleep!).

What I wish I had at the time: If I had a bird book or guide, I would have been able to identify even more of my visitors. 

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Set an “early bird” intention. The next time you wake to the dawn chorus, ask yourself how you are going to choose to move through this new day. If you want to go back to sleep right afterwards, that’s fine, but set an intention. What will you add to make the day ahead better? What will you remove?
  • It’s a busy world. Take time out to be still. Listen to the peepers, crickets, birds and squirrels. Taste the wind and feel the sun’s warmth on your face. Notice and appreciate the different types of beauty in your environment. Remember the movie (but real life!) wisdom of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  • Be curious about what’s going on in your own backyard. Who’s visiting? Who are the day trippers and who are the night owls? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Can you aid them in any way? Click HERE to learn about bird-friendly native plants in your area.
  • Go outside and benefit from the pleasing and stress-reducing effect of nature’s fractals. Really take in what surrounds you through sitting still in your backyard or moving on a mindful walk or jog.
  • Road trip! Visit a local Audubon Center or nature center and learn more about our high flying friends. Here are some educational events (nature walks and workshops) in Vermont.

Next Up: Books

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com.

 

Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

For three days after my surgery, the hematoma above the surgical site hadn’t budged. It actually seemed to be slightly bigger. My husband joked that my boob was growing back. Although his comment brought a genuine laugh, by the time I went online at 2 A.M., it was no longer funny. I read references to blood clots, stagnant blood being a breeding ground for additional cancers, and more!

I counted the hours until my surgeon’s office opened. I had remembered using arnica gel years ago and asked her about giving it a whirl. She listened to my fears and worries, suggested patience (ha!) and since I wasn’t pregnant (ahh, nope...), said she was fine with my using it topically, as long as I didn’t put it on any broken skin.

puck

I’m a hockey fan, but come on now…

What helped: Arnica gel! In less than 24 hours the “hockey puck” had a sunken hole in the middle. Within days, it had practically disappeared. It also swiftly cleared the big bruise on my hand from the IV insertion.

What I wish I knew at the time: If I started using topical arnica gel right after surgery, I could have seen progress earlier and avoided the panicked reaction. Yet again, I implore you: DO NOT GO ONLINE AT 2 A.M.!

A couple of things you can do or think about right now:

arnicagel

A little dab’ll do ya!

  • Read about the healing aspects of topical arnica gel. It’s been around as a medicinal plant since the Middle Ages, so there’s a lot out there. You can find some good history here.
  • Consider getting a tube. If you don’t have arnica gel in your medicine cabinet, think about adding it for those unexpected bumps and bruises.
  • Remember: Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t ingest or put on open wounds and test out a small spot first to ensure you don’t have skin sensitivity. Always read cautions first, of course! It definitely helped me, however, and might help some of you.

Additional Jottings

  • Acupressure points – Acupressure points are great for relaxation, reducing nausea, helping with headaches and more. I like to tap or gently use my middle finger to circle the point on my sternum, which is for emotional well-being. You activate this through yoga’s prayer position (Anjali mudra) when you place your hands together and press the knuckles of your thumbs into your chest. It puts pressure on the thymus gland, which is known as the happiness point. Learn more about the benefits of acupressure here.
  • Acupuncture – I have been a longtime receiver of acupuncture for asthma flares and vertigo-related issues. I found a couple of sessions helpful post-surgery to reduce anxiety and re-balance my system. Acupuncture is now covered by many insurance plans to assist with the many side effects of cancer treatments, most especially chemotherapy-related. Here is a good article on the topic by Hartford HealthCare.
  • Ayurveda – Ayurveda translates to “The Science of Life” in Sanskrit. Its approach of balancing body, mind, spirit and well-being obviously has great appeal for me. I recently read a book by the well-known Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad. If you’re curious about learning more, he has a lot of good information on his website. And, for those living in Vermont, you may be interested to learn that we have an Ayurvedic center right here in Williston!

Next Up: Biopsy & Breast MRI

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Listen to Your Gut

My first thought when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was, “I finally have my answer.”Lovefillsthehouse!

The haunting had begun two months prior. There was something wrong with my breathing. Having lived with manageable asthma, I knew this was different. I couldn’t explain it sufficiently, but I was off.

As the weeks went by, I ran through a slew of appointments: Primary Care doctor, asthma and allergy doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, and finally, a mental health counselor, because I couldn’t stop thinking of my own death.

Nobody could find anything physically wrong with me. My lungs were fine and the continued breathing difficulty I was describing didn’t quite fit with what happens with classic anxiety or panic attacks. The pain on the right side of my mid-back was viewed as a possible overuse injury or as a result of a massage that was too deep.

From early January through early March, when people would ask how I was doing, I would answer something to the effect of, “I’m okay. I’m trying to figure something out, there’s something going on, but I’m working on it. I just need to figure it out.” I started canceling anything extra on my calendar. I just wanted to be home. Friends were getting increasingly concerned by my behavior change. I was nervous. At times, they could see that there was a frantic or uneasy look in my eyes. They saw my chest heaving in discomfort. Fear had entered my world and had a firm foothold in my psyche.

Upon waking each morning, I hoped I’d magically returned to normal during the night. Instead, the mysterious new way of being remained.

One evening, I was alone in my house and a wave of panic and desperation washed over me. I remember breaking down and pleading to whoever or whatever might be listening, “What is WRONG with me? What is happening? Please, please, help me understand! What do I need to do? Tell me! Help me! Please! I KNOW something is wrong with me!”

A week later, I started my day with a routine mammogram.

When I got back to my office, the phone call came. They found something. In BOTH breasts. The right side was the one that was more concerning. I had to go in for a magnified mammogram and ultrasound.

I told a couple of close friends. They shared their own stories of being called back, trying to allay any fears.

But, I now knew. They’d found the source.

You see, my annual imaging was overdue by three months. I had delayed it because I had been attending the parade of other appointments about the erratic breathing and upsetting thoughts. Since I had previously gone two years in between mammograms and did not have a family history, I was not concerned by waiting 15 months versus 12. I had not connected anything worrisome with the mammogram that morning, because the pain was in my back and the difficulty was in my lungs and head. I was just ticking off the “self-care” box of annual appointments.

Interestingly, the pain was on the part of my back directly behind my right breast.

After additional testing (magnified mammograms, ultrasound, core needle biopsy), my diagnosis was medically confirmed.

I did not get too many details – those would come when I saw the Breast Cancer Surgeon.

My first appointment with her brought additional unexpected, and unwanted, information. I thought they would make an excision, and I would possibly need to have radiation. That wasn’t to be the plan.

I needed a unilateral mastectomy.

I summoned my inner strength, gathered my loved ones close, and looked to something higher.

I thought about death. A lot. This also led me to think about life and living. I learned more about what I didn’t want, so that I could begin to craft a more meaningful life on a variety of levels.

I am lucky. I had it worse than some and a lot better than many others. That said, I understand the fear a cancer diagnosis brings, I have experienced orthorexia, life-changing surgery, intense types of physical and mental pain, feelings of “scan-xiety”, medication side effects, and the ongoing fear of recurrence.

After I was diagnosed, I craved information. Although the broad strokes were given to me, the “detail” recommendations for healing work were lacking. I found the stories of others to be beneficial guides. I got a better idea of what to expect, even though I knew that every experience was unique.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share key lessons I learned. I’ll talk about my own experience, I’ll talk about the role of love (love is what it’s all about, people!). I’ll talk about Qigong, Tarot cards, Yoga, a couple of kooky kitty cats, unique fashion choices for a unilateral gal, sonic bowls, and more. I’ll introduce concepts that you might really like and others that you might think are way too out there.

For those undergoing your own cancer experience, I wish you the highest and best.

My hope is that you can find something that resonates with you, something that brings you or a loved one hope, health or a peaceful moment. When considering what might be a good fit, just listen to your gut.

Part of the reason I’m sharing is because I would have wanted to read something like this… an inside view of a portion of what you might experience, which could help you prepare just a little bit more. A map of the territory. This map only goes so far and others will likely be needed for you, but this will be a way to bring light to some of the shadowy unknown parts that you may move through.

Healing means different things to different people at different stages. Taking time to be still and asking what would most enhance your body, mind and spirit’s healing on a morning, afternoon and evening basis may help you regain a little more control.

May you be able to recognize the blessings that surround you amidst this temporary period of fierce difficulty.

So many will be there for you – allow them in.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.