Smiling, Angels & Power Shorts

Have you ever taken the little things for granted? I know I have. I never thought that the ability to smile was such a big deal. We smile everyday without even thinking about it. Nonverbal cues are a large part of our communication and smiling, for me, is part of my self-expression. If you know me, I’m always smiling.

My ability to smile could’ve disappeared with this surgery. Dr. Lin warned me a number of times about the risks; the risks were pretty grave if the nerve was entangled by the tumor. Unfortunately, my tumor was wrapped around my facial nerve inside of my Parotid gland. No wonder I had pain in my face!! This facial nerve controls my ability to smile among other facial expressions. Luckily, Dr. Lin and his team were able to remove the tumor without damaging the nerve.  I can still smile!

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I have a big smile on my face right now. I am so fortunate that my tumor wasn’t cancerous! I am also quite lucky that I can squint my eyes and make my pout-face. Yes, these are all minor things, but things that I have taken for granted until now.

I am so fortunate that I got the tumor out when I did.  Can you imagine if it grew more?  I could have damaged my nerve permanently or made it virtually impossible for the doctors to get it out. I may have a scar, but it’s minor sequel compared to what could have been. 

So many factors came into play that helped me make it through this surgery. I really believe that my health and fitness level aided in the success of this surgery. All of your prayers and well wishes played a huge role in my triumph. Especially, my grandmother’s prayers and all of the angels she gave me. I love positive energy!! The power of positive energy is so much more significant that we can imagine. As well, I had a great team of doctors and nurses at Mass Eye and Ear. And, of course the shorts gave me the super-human powers that all CrossFit girls have. 

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Me, “Stacie Tovaring it” in the hospital

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Prepared for the unknowable

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I love weights!! I’m giving this one a big hug because of where it’s gotten me. The weights and functional movements of CrossFit have done so much for my overall health. And, I know that it has prepared me for this new obstacle. I have no doubt that my physical fitness will make my recovery time quicker. Years ago, I used to have “bad” knees, ”bad” shoulders, and a “bad” back. I had some many injuries due to the beautiful sport of gymnastics. Fortunately, CrossFit has rehabbed my body.

I still remember my first CrossFit workout with Danny V, now the owner of CrossFit Full Potential.  He had me do Cindy for 5-10 minutes. I don’t actually remember how long he made me do this workout? I do remember a few things though…

I remember it wasn’t nearly 20 minutes, which is the timeframe of the workout. I remember how awful I felt during and after the work out. I remember my arms shaking on the push-ups and how stubborn I was. I didn’t want to go down to my knees, but I had to for that last round. I remember how out of shape I felt. I think Danny knew that dropping to my knees was a breaking point for me and stopped the clock. I was SO out of shape and so upset with my level of fitness.

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I hadn’t done anything in a year and a half.  When I say that I didn’t do anything, I really couldn’t do anything. I had gotten heart surgery and had complications. These complications made it so I couldn’t use my arms to lift anything without chest pain. These limitations made my job impossible to do. I could no longer coach gymnastics. I couldn’t spot my gymnasts.

I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. The pressure was unbearable! I took the summer off from working. In the fall, I entered into my teaching career. Projecting my voice at school was so trying. I found myself sitting at lunch fighting back tears from the pain in my chest. It was awful!

My first year of CrossFit, I worked on form. I didn’t even know what I’d be capable of with this whole heart issue going on. Working on perfecting my movement patterns caused my body to stop hurting. CrossFit was a lifesaver! I can walk without knee pain, my chest pain is gone and my shoulder no longer aches. How amazing is this sport?

I believe it will help me fight this new obstacle in my way. I know we can’t control what life throws at us, but we can control how we react to it. We can control how prepared we are for these obstacles. I am SO ready. I am in the best physical shape of my life. And, mentally I can tackle anything! We can control the way we deal with these challenges. I will continue to stay strong both physically and mentally. I believe that my positive attitude and outlook will carry me through this experience. 

I wanted to thank all of you for your out pouring of support. I truly appreciate it, and I know that I am going to be just fine. Not only am I prepared for the unknowable, but I have the best support system in the world! I love you all!!

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Sh*t Happens

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Have you ever had your world rocked upside down? Come on, you all know the song from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Recently, I felt like Will Smith. A few days ago, I found myself sobbing in my car.  I had just found out that this bump that I thought was nothing was something!

Okay, maybe I was in denial? But, I had reason to think it was nothing. When I brought it up to my doctor, she dismissed it. “I can’t feel anything” were her exact words as she touched my jaw line. I was sick at the time, so maybe it was a swollen gland?

It never went away, so I went back to my primary care doctor a second time. This time they tested me for mononucleosis (mono) and the mumps. The tests came back negative. I was fine. It was probably a swollen gland and my sinuses acting up again. I almost felt like a hypochondriac worrying about this stupid little bump!

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My chronic sinus infections brought me into one of the top hospitals in Boston. I was lying back in the chair with this doctor looking up my nose; you can imagine how fun this was… I decided to ask her about this little bump that showed up months ago. Maybe she would have an idea why it didn’t go away.

When I mentioned it to her, she was VERY concerned. I was sent for a MRI, a biopsy, and to a specialist. Honestly, I still wasn’t worried. I am healthy, so I couldn’t possibly be anything serious. I was about to compete in the CrossFit Games!

The results from my biopsy were inconclusive. They said the cells from my “mass” were atypical. They didn’t know what it was. This information was relayed to me during a phone call from the specialist. I remember feeling like I was hit by a frying pan. My ears were literally ringing. The doctor was explaining that I should get surgery to see what the tumor was. I was trying to collect my thoughts. I couldn’t believe this. I thought I was healthy?

I was trying to focus on all of his medical jargon. I focused intently on the risks because of the complications I had with my last surgery. What I retained was that there was a small chance that it was cancerous and there were a number of risks to this surgery. How I interpreted this was, “you don’t have cancer.”

The risks of the surgery were nerve racking. The one risk that resonated with me was the chance of him hitting a facial nerve. He said that I could wake up from surgery and there was a chance that my face could look different. They could hit a nerve and my face would never be the same. I was on information overload. I wanted another opinion.

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Well, I got another opinion and it was pretty much the same. You have a mass of cells. Hmmm, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  Where could I go to hear what I wanted to hear?  Couldn’t this thing just disappear on it’s own?

This is where I really slipped into denial. Surgery was scheduled for December of 2012. I figured this bump couldn’t be that bad if they didn’t schedule me for surgery right away. They actually let me pick the date. I decided I couldn’t do September because I didn’t want to interrupt the school year. I love teaching. And, I really believed in my heart that it would disappear by then. That’s it, I had decided that by December my bump would be gone.

My plans changed rather quickly. One night I started feeling an annoying pain in my jaw, my teeth, and my gums. It was so painful that I thought about going to see my doctor.  I knew in my gut it was the little bump. But, I didn’t want to face that reality.

The following morning I had a dentist appointment.  I brought up this annoying pain to my dentist. And, my world was changed forever. I realized for the first time that I do in fact have a tumor. I have a tumor and it is growing. They confirmed that my teeth, my gums, and my jaw hurt because of this mass. It wasn’t anything dental, and it wasn’t going to just go away. WOW! My denial was over.

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I called the specialist to tell him about the pain I was experiencing. I no longer had the option to wait until December. The risks are higher if this tumor is growing. I have to have surgery in two weeks. I can’t even begin to tell you how scared I am. I have had about eight surgeries in my life but this one scares me the most. Why? Why is this so damn scary? Is it because I could wake up looking differently? That’s scary to me. I kind of like my face… Is it because of the complications I had with my last surgery? That wasn’t any fun! Is it because I thought I was SO healthy and was blindsided? I eat the right foods, I am supposed to be one of the fittest people on earth, but I have a tumor. How did this happen?

Don’t ignore any signs from your body. Whether it’s a small pain in your knee, an ache in your wrist, or a little bump on your neck. Our bodies give us signs for a reason. Our bodies are machines, but they are smart, delicate machines. I put my body through the ringer and it responds. It always just works. This time it is different. I realized that I can eat as healthy as I want and I can work out multiple times a day, but sh*t happens.

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