Lots of highs and lows this week, as anyone with a long term illness or convalescing will appreciate. Good days are almost always followed by bad days simply because, if you are anything like me, you overdo it on the good days, which equals at least one step backwards for the next few days. Grrrr. It is SO hard to pace myself. Imagine being denied sweets, wine, cakes, whatever floats your boat, for absolutely months, nay years, then someone opens the doors to the store room and away you go. I defy any normal person not to overdo it. By about Monday I was just recovering from the curry adventure last week which really, really upset my newly developed GI tract (why is a curry night always my undoing?), which was just as well as we had someone coming to clean the carpets on Wednesday, and of course there is a fair amount of moving around to do in preparation. Several parties have taken their toll on the carpet and don’t even get me started on the chocolate fountain. Don’t ever, ever, ever even consider getting one unless you have Dikki bibs and wall to wall plastic sheeting at the ready. Anyway, good result by the end of the day. Lovely sparkly clean carpets.
Making some attempt to pace myself, on Thursday I kind of rested. Earlier in the week I had a phone call from the physio department at the local hospital saying they had a cancellation for Thursday morning – I had completely forgotten that one of the consultants from Ward 11 had referred me for my shoulder (when it was so painful after the stem cell transplant) so I trotted off to Christchurch Hospital for my 9.30 appointment. Nice to have a change of scenery from Bournemouth. I must admit I was in two minds about accepting the appointment as, hand on heart and apologies to all the hard working physios out there, physio has never done much for me. But, as you may have noticed in the previous blogs, I have a new attitude which embraces the best of all options in healthcare. I also like to think I am slightly more charitable and less critical then I used to be, so I decided to go along and see what I could learn.
The problem with my shoulder started waaaay back about 25 years ago when I was really quite fit and before I had the boys. I awoke one morning to excruciating pain in my shoulder, which nobody, in the short term, seemed able to cure. The pain finally receded to something more manageable but I could hardly use my right arm. After several months I went to see a cranial osteopath friend of my brother who was absolutely magnificent and sorted the problem out in a couple of visits. Fast forward a couple of decades, and I am finding that a few years of dancing (especially ballroom, which does put you in the oddest posture), a lot more desk work and possibly not as much yoga as should be practised (!) are leading to more and more episodes of neck and shoulder problems. The long stay in hospital, where I was immobile for several days at a time due to sickness, was really the icing on the cake, so I am back to having limited use of my arm and quite a lot of pain. I love the way I answer my own questions when I write this blog. I was about to say that I haven’t visited a cranial osteopath since I moved to Bournemouth (which is the obvious answer to the current problem) because there wasn’t anyone I had been drawn to, but then I realised I have in fact discovered someone in the last few weeks. Funny that. ANYWAY, sorry to ramble, but there will eventually be a point to all this. I went to the physio because I thought that knowing about the mechanical side of what had gone wrong might be useful in my attempts to heal the problem myself. BTW I tried the Bowen Technique last week (not enough space here to explain it, so Google it if you are interested), but unusually for me, it didn’t have any effect at all. I should go back for more, in all fairness, but I feel more drawn to cranial osteopathy now.
The physio was really helpful and picked out things like the fact that I am getting slightly hunched due to work at the computer. That horrified me. I know that the problem comes from the vertebra between my shoulder blades, and the exercise he gave me ably demonstrated this because I could feel the stretch up my back. Read the next sentence then find a wall and try it. Stand with your heels, bottom, shoulders (flat) and head against the wall; stretch up from the back of your neck so your chin is very slightly tucked in. Ouch. He gave me lots of other very easy exercises to try to gently start my shoulder moving again. I have another appointment in September, so lots of time to practise. More of this in a moment. From a strictly girlie point of view the other exciting thing that happened after physio was that I had my first manicure in eight months. I know it seems a trivial thing, but as there is absolutely no point me going to a hairdresser at the moment I needed to find somewhere for a bit of pampering. Also, I was prevented from wearing nail varnish during my treatment because at every visit (and four times a day during stays on the ward), part of the ‘obs’ that are done involve an oxygen sensor being clipped on a finger – and it doesn’t work through nail varnish. I could be wrong here, and I am sure the guys will correct me if so, but I think chemotherapy treatment is more de-humanising for women than it is for men. As a woman, losing my hair has been a massive thing. Yes, I have had fun with the scarves and hats, but I feel curiously vulnerable and very obviously a chemo patient; a bald man isn’t necessarily noticeable, whereas a woman –even bedecked in a pretty scarf – especially when her eyebrows have disappeared too, does stand out. (Tried the eyebrow pencil and that really doesn’t do it.) Add to that the ban on nail varnish and it takes a lot away from the fun side of being a woman at a time when one’s self-esteem is in huge need of propping up. However, I am delighted to report that my eyebrows have already reappeared and my hair is starting to sprout. When it gets to the length where it doesn’t scare small children or old people I will try leaving my scarves at home and brave the world, Sinead O’Connor style.
So. Friday dawned and as you can imagine I felt quite tired from the week’s exertions and decided to have a nice relaxing day at home. I have been literally itching to do some yoga again and Friday felt like the day to start. As lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, I had to stop most kinds of exercise during my treatment – the last thing I wanted was to stimulate a system which could circulate cancerous cells around my body. I’m neither the fittest nor the most athletic person on the whole, but the lack of activity over such a long time was driving me crazy. As I am now unofficially in remission (t.b.c. by the PET scan in a few months), I have tried a few teeny stretches recently but even those took a lot of effort in my currently weakened state, so I knew I had to be careful. The sun was shining so I opened the conservatory doors to let in the warm breeze, laid my yoga mat to face the sun, and started a new meditation CD I have been wanting to try. I know from previous experience that unresolved emotions are held within the body and that once you start to free up the knots and blocks within, they will start to surface. I wanted to give them ample opportunity to do so. I decided to stick to very simple stretches, interspersed with long periods of relaxation laying Alexander Technique-fashion at the end of each one, and include the new stretches I had learnt from the physio where appropriate. I am glad I set my sights so low :-(. Having previously been able to fold myself in half at the drop of a hat, I was horrified that while sitting with my legs out in front of me I could barely reach my ankles, let alone get my head to my knees. No chance! The CD I had chosen was perfect: ‘Earth’ by Alex Theory, part of his Full Spectrum Sound Healing series. The slow drumbeat encouraged me to calm my thoughts and allow my body to sink into the floor. Having done many years yoga with Swamiji I can still hear her voice even now when I practise, and it is such a help. I focused on allowing my body to relax down into the postures; I could feel the muscles creaking as they were finally given the space and time to unfurl, and oh my goodness did the emotions pour forth. My poor, poor body. I didn’t realise it had gone so badly and totally into shutdown as a means of self-defence. Way back when I first had the problem with my shoulder, the cranial osteopath said it was the culmination of a lot of issues that had gone unresolved – the straw that broke the camel’s back. It struck me as I relaxed into the posture that it had served its purpose and given me the same message again. As I breathed into my back, encouraging the muscles to open and relax it felt as though a part of me was peering out, like a child hiding behind a curtain: “Is it safe to come out now?” Yes, it was safe. Within seconds the tears were flowing. I think they were tears of relief as it felt really good and didn’t turn into the helpless sobbing of fear and desperation. Been there, done that. I wanted to stay in that position and just let it happen, so I did, dripping tears all over the knees I couldn’t reach. I realised that through all these months when you lovely people having been saying nice things like how brave and inspirational I am, I have in reality just been coping in the only way I can. Shutdown. At all costs keep going and deal with the fallout later. Well the time to face the fallout has arrived, and I must say I am glad. I have the time, the resources, and a lovely clean carpet on which to relax to my heart’s content.
Thank you for your company on this incredible journey.