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Days 10 & 11 of 40: Pranayama

Man practicing pranayama

One-quarter of the way through, and it’s working (or I’m working; smile). 90 minutes of yoga on Monday night and last night, a 45-minute walk home from work. The latter was not planned, but the cool air on my face, with a little fall of rain at first, felt so nice after being inside nearly all day.

On Monday night, Steve started out class by talking about pranayama. As he explained and as you’ll see on Wikipedia, the word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Pran, meaning life force (particularly, the breath, which we need more than food and water) and yama, to extend or draw out.

We did some kapalabhati, or breath of fire, which is basically short, explosive exhales through the nose. I’ve realized recently that it really gives your abs a workout, too.

Steve talked about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and getting used to suffering as part of finding ever-present peace in whatever happens in life. I’m probably running lots of his thoughts together. But it makes sense for me and the things that I’ve gone through recently in life, and continue to struggle with. And it’s probably true for the things that we all go through in life on a regular basis. Just saying. We sat for 15 minutes at the start of class, and Steve said that if we could do this every day, it’s a great start of a meditation practice. (Highlight of the class: A local music celeb was in class. I felt like a 12-year-old girl for most of the night, and all of next day. Constant. smirk.)  

Tuesday night, I walked to REI after work to get new swim goggles (no more raccoon eyes). The cool-ish air and almost rain felt nice on my skin. The walk to REI was around 10 minutes or so, and I knew the total walk home was 45 minutes. So after REI, I walked it all the way home, and it felt pretty great. I’m slightly obsessed right now with a song from Glee (“This is the New Year”) and I kept hitting repeat while walking it (and me) home.

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Day 9 of 40: (Keep) swimming

Swimming pool from oneyeartofixmylife.comI made it to the pool today. It was a small space, only two lap lanes, but the pool was clean and relatively uncrowded, for the gym on a Sunday morning. 40 minutes of swimming, first with laps and then kicking, and then back to a few laps.

My arms felt sore after yesterday’s yoga workout. I think this Saturday-Sunday combo is a good one. I did learn I’ll have to upgrade my gym access if I want to go to this other location, but I think it will be worth it. Feeling good about continuing on with the 40 days goal and getting back to swimming.

There is a sauna and a steam room with access on the pool deck. A lot of traffic there, with most people not using the pool. One older man kept using the steam room and then would plunge into the pool, doing a deadman’s float kind of thing. His back had some deep round scars on it. And while that’s not really what the pool is there for, when people are swimming laps, he was respectful enough and kept out of our way.

I may need some new goggles or may need to loosen mine up a bit. They left pretty deep grooves under my eyes, visible enough that I didn’t want to stop at the store afterwards. And I can’t have my workout damaging my youthful appearance.

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Day 8 of 40: Turn my world upside down

5 steps to headstand from lulu lemon

90 minutes of yoga, much needed after a busy week and feeling sluggish today.  KT started us off with a form of cleansing. We moved our warmed up hands from below our chin, up our face and over our head, like a veil, she said. We put slight pressure on our eyes (eyes closed), massaged the mandible and loosened up the face.

Inversions – a parallel with life, when things get turned upside down all of a sudden. I’d never thought about a headstand that way before. Lots of core, and some flow. Backbends. Music you could dance to, in a ballet kind of way, which I love. A wonderful class. Much needed – did I already say that?

Tomorrow: Swimming challenge. And, yes, I’ve been talking about that since day 1.

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Days 5 & 6 of 40: Walk on, grin and barre it

Andie Hecker on JuicyCouture.com

First, it was skin care. And now, my social life is cramping my exercise routine. But, wait, perhaps instead… my social life is helping me reframe my exercise routine. I also now realize that on many days, I can easily meet the 30 minutes goal.

Yesterday, I had plans to meet friends after work to watch the IU-Purdue game. Eric, a friend I’ve known since high school, was in town for training with his job (Microsoft).  Celeste, a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile and who is also from Indiana, was meeting us along with Eric’s friends from work.  I had brought clothes to work to change into and climb up some hills as a break during the day, but that didn’t happen.

Luckily, the walk from the bus to the bar (Buckley’s in Belltown) was a good 15 or 20 minutes, at a brisk pace (X two, since I caught the bus home at the end of the night, too).

Today, I had a non-rehearsal rehearsal dinner to attend shortly after work. I took yoga clothes to work but the class in my building is no longer happening. Drat. But I also had a dentist’s appointment downtown in the morning. Walk there and back: Approximately 30 minutes. And instead of yoga at home before dinner, I tried a 15-minute DIY barre workout from Daily Candy and Andie Hecker, celebrity trainer to Miranda Kerr, Ginnifer Goodwin and Natalie Portman. Hecker’s Ballet Bodies site is inspiring photog-wise and perfect for me, the one who is craving dancer’s legs.

So there you have it. I’m still on target for the 40 days. I’m a little worried about tomorrow, since I am leaving work early for a wedding and am not sure I’ll have time for a workout during the day. Plus, I have to haul the party dress to work. Do I want to also bring workout clothes, or can the workout be the dance party after dinner? We are also walking to the courthouse for the wedding – could that perhaps be a 30-minute walk, total? See – social life dilemmas hit me once again. I have a feeling I’ll be ready for the weekend, and some actual gym time. Short-term goal: Finally hit the pool.

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Day 4 of 40: Change o’ plans

Tennis shoes, from charmofcharleston.comThwarted with my swimming plan, but that’s OK.  I had a laser treatment today for my face, and hadn’t planned ahead when starting the 40 days that this would interfere with swimming.  Such is life.  Laser treatments and skin care are important to me and are perhaps part of the reason why my own father doesn’t realize my age. In all fairness, I don’t remember his age either.

Swimming was out, and yoga probably wasn’t a great idea. My left knee was aching a bit when I went to bed last night, and I realized that I probably should have iced it after the yoga, stairs, yoga routine on days one to three of 40.

But walking was in. And I needed to go to the store. I felt really cold on the way home, even though it was in the mid-40s today. Could I drive to the store and walk somewhere, and still get at least 30 minutes of exercise in? Probably not, and gosh, how wimpy of me. As one of our researchers would say, it’s all about the right clothing. It doesn’t matter what the weather is. A long-sleeve shirt and fleece jacket with hat did the trick. And gloves. iPod on Father John Misty to reminisce about the awesome concert the other night.

In the end: 40 minutes or so of walking. Groceries procured, lunch ready for tomorrow. And another look at the latest episode of Girls.

Up next: Most likely another walk. I’m meeting friends after work to watch the IU game.

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Day 3 of 40: Santosha

90 minutes of yoga at Samadhi with Steve. Backbends on blocks, tilted against the wall. First with the hands (easy enough) and second with the blocks. I felt too shaky and then Steve decided it was better to have the blocks on the floor. We were the guinea pigs and it was an experiment.

Strength moves and core work. Triangle, without putting weight into the hand reaching for the knee, calf or the ground. I felt slightly stronger than even just a few days ago, though I couldn’t do the move with two blocks where I hold my entire body weight up.  Only one foot felt like moving.  Another goal to aim for, in addition to the dancer’s legs.

108 chants of Santosha near the end of class. Contentment, or satisfaction. I felt distracted at certain times, thinking about work or “sorry, I can’t make it” or reluctant ends to a friendship when I should have been breathing into it.  I know it’s part of the process.

Day 4:  Plan of the moment is swimming, which gets back to yesterday’s theme. And also moves from class tonight. Face down on the mat, left arm forward, right leg back and up, look over your left shoulder. Keep swimming.

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5 things I learned at AHCJ12

Inspired by Bill Heisel, here goes:

1.  Sometimes, you can go home again.  It’s been several years since I attended AHCJ, due to budget cutbacks when I was at the Univ. of Washington.  With my new job at Seattle Children’s, we each have a small budget to travel, “learn and grow.”

I’m grateful that I had the chance to attend, and reminisced with health journalist Joanne Silberner (former health policy correspondent based at NPR’s flagship in DC) about going to the second AHCJ conference ever, also in Atlanta but held on the grounds of the Emory Conference Center Hotel. A man who I randomly met and chatted with on the plane on the way to Atlanta was floored to hear that she was on our plane; I introduced the two of them after we landed. He said that she was missed and that “we” needed her back on the air.

I remember running around the Emory grounds at that meeting with Daniel Yee, former (I think) AP reporter.  That was back when I was a bona fide journalist.  This time around, I’m in public relations.  I’m a flack, as Scott Hensley said at one of the sessions. (He didn’t mean this in a derogatory way.)

The setting this year  was not so woodsy and definitely “city-esque,” with a Hard Rock Cafe right up the street and places blaring loud music.  I know – I’m a former music critic but even I don’t like loud music, especially when it sounds like karaoke.

Some 600 people attended, which may or may not be a record. It was impressive.  I enjoyed meeting new journos, touching base with journalists I’ve only emailed with of late and seeing former D.C. colleagues like Shelly Gehshan (Pew Children’s Dental Campaign), Bill Erwin (Alliance for Health Reform) and Peter Ashkenaz (HHS).  I learned that Peter is no longer with CMS.  Silly me.  We keep in touch via email and Facebook, and mostly talk about music.  I now know that he’s in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the meaning behind the windshield photos he posts on FB.  I know that Dan DeNoon of WebMD fame has a cabin in the mountains, with a family of foxes living underneath said cabin.  Andrew Holtz and his wife are moving to a houseboat – not in Seattle, mind you but in Portland, rather.

2.  Social media should be fun.  I went to two helpful social media sessions.  One from Matt Thompson at NPR, which was kicked off with Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to talk about.”  People are talking, talking about people.  Social media is a conversation.  The new goal is to Master the Conversation.   He’s so convincing, he even got Tom Paulson to drink the kool-aid, so there’s got to be something to what he’s saying.  Matt used Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic as someone who’s mastered the conversation, on race and culture.  He responds to comments on his blog posts, and treats conversations as valuable as his work.

Transform your rolodex into a network, says Thompson. Take the best of it to feed further reporting.  One example – NYT op-ed questioning shaken baby syndrome, doc who reads Commonhealth (site in Massachusetts started by two journalists) says this op-ed is irresponsible, critiques the op-ed.  Story continued on Commonhealth and went back to NYT, made its way into NYT magazine cover story.  Shows the potential benefit.

Re: being fun – this conversation mostly occurred in another social media session with Maryn McKenna, Scott Hensley and Serena Marshall, who said make sure you’re having fun with social media.  If you’re not having fun, take a break and come back to it.  McKenna said it’s okay to be promotional with social media, but if that’s the only thing that you do, people notice really fast and it gets boring. Marshall said for every 5 to 8 professional posts, share something personal.

3. I should take my flipcam with me everywhereMark Johnson, senior lecturer at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the U. of Georgia, led a helpful session on video, the right way.  He looked rather bookish but kicked off the session by encouraging attendees to vote for his brother’s band, who was in a contest in New York (but we couldn’t actually vote because the contest was closed; they sounded somewhat like the Cranberries).  Johnson said that the audience is not yet ready for video.  But we need to be prepared now.  Five years from now, if you don’t have video, you’ll be crushed by the competition.

Think about video as one component, not the entire story.  The click away rate on videos is stunning.  You have six to 10 seconds to hook someone with video.  85% of viewers are gone in 10 seconds if you don’t have the hook.  Page views are a dying metric.  As technology gets more sophisticated, time on the page is more and more valuable.  Johnson said he doesn’t want music in news stories because it influences the story and can be deceptive.

4.  The ways of communicating with journalists has expanded.  I use Profnet and HARO (Help a reporter out) at work, and recently signed back on to Twitter.  When I was at the UW, I launched the Twitter and several Facebook accounts.  I went through withdrawal when I left UW and started my new job and recently found my way back to Twitter, when I started looking for contact info for journalists and found their social media handles. Maryn McKenna said that social media has pretty much replaced Profnet and HARO for her.  PIOs will see my post, she said.

5.  Coincidences happen. (sung to “Accidents will happen,” by Elvis Costello)  I had lunch rather randomly one day in the hotel restaurant.  I say “random” because I can often be indecisive and what I ended up doing that day could have gone either or any way.   Conference burn-out always sets in for me, and I need some alone time.  I almost bought a salad, again, at the deli and took it to my room to eat.  But I decided instead, quite decisively, to sit down in the restaurant and have something hot, maybe even something with fries.  (Color me bold and outrageous.)  I was way over-teched out at the conference, and immediately looked at my phone – Twitter, Facebook, what’s on my email.

After a few minutes, a man at the next table said, “Mary Guiden.”  It was Harry Joiner, a friend and former grad school buddy that I hadn’t seen in 15 years or so. Un-f-ing real, omfgg type of surprise.  Seriously.  One is a million is how he described it later.  He was meeting with a client who just happened to be at the same hotel, at a different conference.  He saw my name tag, but I’m pretty sure if a few more minutes went by, I would have recognized his voice because it is so distinct.  Harry and I were pretty close in grad school at the Univ. of S. Carolina, even though I was only there for a little bit more than a semester.  He was coming off a punk rock band phase, and he was from Georgia.  He was humorous, sarcastic, goofy, fun and kind.  We were in different language tracks (me – French, Harry – Portuguese), but still bonded.  In one class, I remember Harry sitting behind me and every morning, he’d take a sip of his coffee.  “Aaaah,” he would say after swallowing that sip, and it always made me smile.  It’s reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode, too.

Anywho – it amazes me that I had this million to one meet-up in Atlanta.  I think the Universe, or God, or whoever you believe in was perhaps keeping an eye out for me.  My boyfriend broke up with me shortly before that conference and ever since then, little signs of positivity have been coming my way to remind me that I’m on the right track, that life is good, that it can in an instant bring a surprise like Harry Joiner right to me, to make me smile, to remind me that I’m pretty great, too.  (Thanks for that, Harry).  As he put it:  You look awesome; he (ex-boyfriend) does not sound awesome.  End of story.

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Finding needs more study.

We recommend that you have further images taken. The letter was dated March 17, 2011 and came from the Univ. of Washington Medical Center/ Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).

I received it on the next day, Friday, and wasn’t sure what to think.  I’d gone for my annual exam earlier in the week, and my ARNP had suggested getting a mammogram that same day. I hadn’t done the usual prep (no lotion, no deodorant), so maybe that’s all that this was about.  I’d never had an abnormal read before on a mammogram and had no family history of breast cancer, yet the letter and what it could mean made me feel quite anxious.

I booked an appointment for Tuesday, March 22. Further images were needed of the left breast, I learned. Calcifictions, or small bits of calcium, were present and the doctors wanted to take a closer look.  The radiology tech took three or four mammograms, and then I went back to a room to change out of the robe, and back into my clothes.  A little while later, someone came and took me to a room, and said the radiologist would be in to discuss the results.

I didn’t ask for reading materials, so I looked at my phone.  Then, I looked on the desk in the office.  There were pamphlets under a box of kleenex: Breast core needle biopsy – instructions for care.  That didn’t seem like a good sign. I waited.  My boss called, forgetting that I was at my doctor’s appointment.  It was a short call, interrupted by the staffer coming back in to say the doctor was on her way.

The radiologist came in, then, accompanied by a resident.  My first thought was, “Oh, great. I have something unusual and people are now interested in my case.” But working in an academic medical center, I should have realized it’s part of the training situation.  The radiologist was young, blonde and sporting knee-high suede boots.

She said, yes, that they wanted a biopsy of the calcifictions.  It wasn’t anything that looked like cancer, like some calcifications do, but they just needed to rule that out.  They had an appointment available in one hour, or I could come back later in the week.  She said there was no rush to stay today and have the biopsy.  She gave me the pre-biopsy instructions and asked about medications I might be taking, including ibuprofen on a regular basis.  “You’re too healthy,” she said, with a chuckle and a big smile.  The resident smiled and laughed, too.

I opted to come back on another day, and would hopefully see the same doctor.  After the appointment, I called and emailed my friend, Elizabeth, who had lost her son to cancer. She immediately offered to take me to my appointment. “Oh, I was just going to walk over,” I said.  “This is not about transportation,” she replied. “It’s moral support.”  Won’t you be fired for being gone for hours, I asked.  “I run this place,” she said.

When I talked with her later on the phone, I said that it might scare me if she came with me. “This is about me and not you,” she jokingly admonished.  I appreciated that so much, later on.

My appointment was scheduled for Wednesday, two days after the second set of mammograms. I had dinner with girlfriends the night before, and decided I would limit who I would tell until I after I got the results.  My parents were in Florida, for example, and I didn’t want to freak them out unnecessarily. We didn’t talk about personal things all that often, so it was better just to wait.

But at dinner that night, my friend L said she had to go in the next day for a repeat mammogram.  I decided to spill the biopsy beans.  She was going in for the right breast and me, for the left.  We decided to send each other positive boob karma from opposite angles.  We promised to text each other the next day and to keep our other dinner buddy informed. Her appointment was at 8 a.m.

I told two people at work, and they both had stories of either having to go back for a repeat mammogram or even a biopsy, or friends who had gone in for the same procedure.  One friend had cancer, said my boss, but they caught it early, which is what is important.  I started to wonder if skipping last year’s mammogram in support of new public health guidelines was the right thing to do.  Was this my punishment for being a health policy wonk?

Elizabeth picked me up at work on the 23rd a little after noon. My appointment was at 12:30, close by at the SCCA.  We joked a lot beforehand and I recapped the latest 30 Rock episode that spoofed reality TV shows and portrayed Alec Baldwin’s character as being gay. I am always after Elizabeth to watch that show, and I was happy to have the distraction of sharing silly stories.

When I was called for my appointment, I changed into a gown that opened in the front.  The physician/ resident came in, introduced herself and talked me through what would happen. The procedure sounded different than what the radiologist had explained, and I wouldn’t be seeing the same doctor that day (even though I’d been told she’d be there when I called to make my appointment).

I would be lying facedown on a table, with my breast hanging through a hole in the table. The table would be elevated high above the providers’ heads, so that they could do their work. My breast would be placed in a mammogram-ish device, a few more slides would be taken and when it was time for the biopsy, I would first get a shot of lidocaine to numb the area, and then they would go in and take out the cells to study.

After the procedure, they would place a titanium clip in the spot where they took out the cells, to mark the spot in case it did end up being cancer. Titanium in my breast – I guess that sounded sort of cool.  The doctor said it wouldn’t be detected at the airport or cause problems in metal detectors. She asked if I wanted any reading material, and I said no, that I was okay.

After she left, I began to read my medical chart.  The words and writing I saw began to make me nervous:  suspicious abnormality, UOQ, amorphous calcifications measuring 18 millimeters, overall assessment – category 4, suspicious.  I began to cry.  I also felt a little miffed when I read: Patient preferred to return for biopsy on a subsequent day, and was given instructions for scheduling the biopsy.

It would have been nice if the doctor had written: Patient was told that there was no need to schedule an immediate appointment.  Instead, what she had written made it sound like I should have stayed for a biopsy that day, and decided to leave the clinic.   Having shed a few tears, I was then led into the room where I’d have the procedure.

I asked the tech on the way in about UOQ.  It means upper outer quadrant, the place that they’d be targeting to grab those unknown cells.  I never realized that I could get so upset over a medical procedure and related unknowns, and it probably didn’t help that I had scoured my medical chart and saw all the scary words, without any real explanation.

My mammograms were in one of those viewing device things on the wall when I came in, probably for last minute review and to make sure they were targeting the right area.

I got up on the table and got into position.  It wasn’t comfortable, but it also wasn’t so bad.  What was bad, though, was when I was clamped into place, heard people come into the room, stand in the general area of the mammograms, talk … and I couldn’t hear what was going on.  My head was turned to face the wall, so all that I could see was a generic print or painting.

Tears began to stream from my eyes again.  I heard more talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Of course, the imagination goes to work.  “Are you trying to figure out which area you’re targeting?” I asked.

One of the doctors came over and spoke with me.  He saw that I was upset and a little while later, they had one of the staffers stand up near the table by my lower body to talk with me and to calm me down.  She placed her hand on my shoulder, which helped.  Why didn’t they just do that from the start?  I suppose they didn’t know that I would completely freak out.

I barely felt the lidocaine injection, but did feel a splash of cool water on my breast.  The resident mentioned the needle going in deeper and that I might feel something stronger, but I didn’t.  Phew.  Then some device sucked out the cells that they needed to study.  Again, I didn’t feel anything.  I should have felt comforted, but I still was very upset.

Dr. G. came around the side of the table near the wall, and he said that they got everything that they needed.  “How did things look?” I asked.  On a scale of one to 10, where one is nothing and 10 is not great, he said he thought my cells or the calcifications looked like a three.  That was pretty good, I guess.

I kept crying while the tech and some other staffers helped me sit up and tried to stop the bleeding in the biopsy spot.  One woman said, “Oh, there’s no bleeding.” But then, when I sat up, it started bleeding again.  “Do you usually bleed a lot?” she asked.  “Well, I’ve never cut my breast before,” I said.  Seriously, what kind of question is that?  It made me think: Oh, it must be a bad sign if the bleeding doesn’t stop right away, even though it probably didn’t mean that at all.

Steri strips, or really skinny thin white bandage-y material, were placed across the small wound.  I was given a cute little round icepack that could tuck into my bra, too.  The tech took a few more “soft” mammograms (no serious squishing) and, then, I was done.  This tech, Tara (I think), was the person who had put her hand on my shoulder and tried to comfort me when I was past the point of no return in tears.  It did help, even if the tears continued.

She offered optimistic words and said that what Dr. G. had told me (three on a scale of one to 10) was not something he said to everyone.  I suppose that made me feel a little better.  Results would come within two days.

I changed back into my clothes, and tucked the cute little icepack into my bra. Tara had mentioned re-freezing it and keeping it on my chest until the early evening. “I’m going back to work,” I told her, and that would make re-freezing tricky (and probably scary for co-workers).  “Really?” she said.  “That’s the first time I’ve heard that, but I’m not surprised with you.”  Wow. Even after all of that crying, she could sense some strength.  Interesting.

Back out in the waiting room, Elizabeth convinced me to not go back to work. It wasn’t that hard, considering I felt like I’d been crying for the last hour and could probably use some rest. And my freezer would be nice and close for the icepack.  I wasn’t really sore. That wouldn’t come until a week or so later, amazingly.  I even went on a yoga retreat that weekend, and didn’t feel any pain.  The post-biopsy instructions, after all, said no strenuous exercise for 24 hours.

Two days later, the day that I was leaving for the retreat on Whidbey Island, I got the call. “Benign,” said the SCCA staffer.  I figured it was a good sign that I didn’t hear directly from the doctor.  She said that they wanted me to return to clinic in about six months for another mammogram.  I felt so relieved, more than relieved.   Despite some recent heartache, at least I didn’t have cancer.  I have a healthy body that is strong enough to do yoga (do I sound like your yoga instructor?) and friends and family who love me, and a pretty darn good life.  Those are all things to concentrate on for the moment and in those future times when I struggle with the “what ifs” and “why didn’t this work out?”  Just remember:  HEALTHY.  BENIGN.   NO NEED FOR FURTHER STUDY.   I AM FORTUNATE.  AND GRATEFUL.  Yes.