I have been on quite a journey; more like a roller coaster. If only one person reads this and takes action to investigate one’s own skin, then I have helped.
I am a lifelong student of health, well-being, proactive care of body, mind, and soul, author of “GROWING YOUNGER GRACEFULLY: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazz“, creator of GYG Organic Facial & Body Serums, and architect of Yoga for Living with Loss.
I am usually immersed in how to age well, live well, and be well. I always considered myself to be vigilant about my good health, even a little prideful that I take no medications, walk 5-10 miles with ease, teach and take a variety of yoga classes, and am physically active biking, swimming, hiking, kayaking, gardening, and full of energy and optimism.
I noticed a small discoloration on my left, fifth toe and toe nail. Was it beach tar from my many swims? Maybe my sneakers on my long walks were causing friction, so I got new sneakers. I didn’t think it was cause for concern.
In my yoga practice, I take each toe and move it in the six directions of flexibility. I am very connected, aware, touching, and massaging my feet and toes all the time. My class commentary was that since my father was a podiatrist, my homage to my sweet Dad was our attention to our feet.
This discoloration never hurt, never got bigger, never got smaller, never bothered me. Was it a bruise? Was it just discoloration? I touched it, studied it, tried a few topical remedies, and was waiting for it to disappear. It did not.
At the end of my annual physical, I remembered to ask my wonderful doctor what she thought of this discoloration. She suggested I see a dermatologist, which I did two weeks later. I saw a physician’s assistant who looked at it with a bit of alarm and that was when I sensed this was a little more than I thought. He had me see another dermatologist that very day!
Dr. M. took a biopsy, stitched up that incision, and gave me my first full body scan. She took off a few basal cells and said the biopsy result would be back in a few days. I had never had a full body scan from a dermatologist before. We should ALL be checked!
Three days later, my report was that I had Stage 2 melanoma!!! Four days later, I had an appointment with Dr. T., a renown surgeon and Harvard professor with a fantastic reputation. Even the scheduler said that he was highly regarded and sought after so I was definitely lucky.
I spent the waiting time researching all the possible options the surgeon might present, trying not to panic. I spoke with friends. I talked to anyone I felt safe around. I was very frightened, to say the least.
Dr. T said that in order to completely remove the melanoma, he needed a clean margin. He drew it out. The clean margin was much larger than my infected toe. The toe would need to be removed.
He told me that this would not affect my activities, unless I was competing in the Olympics on the balance beam. He said to remember three things: 1. It’s curable 2. It’s curable 3. It’s curable. He would perform the surgery and remove lymph nodes in my groin to see if any aberrant cells had traveled. All I could repeatedly ask was, “Am I going to lose my toe?” He said yes, then continued talking of which I heard little and then repeated my question.
Yes, I was going to lose my toe. If the cells had spread, there was medication. We would know that after the pathology report. What a shock! Within a few days, the surgery was scheduled the very next week.
I was also told that this melanoma was not from the sun. Might be genetic, or from a radon filled playground I used as a child, or just random.
So I had less than three weeks from diagnosis to surgery. It was all so fast, which was good to get it resolved. And it was almost too fast to get my head around. I had Reiki, massages, an amazing Qi Gong healing, many tears, and great fears. My situation was not a secret but just very private as I was processing, processing, processing.
It was like a pebble in a pond, each ripple was a bigger circle. I was very discerning about who I told because I wanted to protect my very fragile emotional state from any harsh, inappropriate (to me), horrified reactions.
The days of getting ready were a blur. I cried a lot. My husband cried with me. We were scared. I spoke often with my kids, a few times with the grandkids, friends, and those who I chose to share my feelings with. My amazing support system was there for me and so very helpful in perspective and just holding the space for my tears and fears.
The days were counting down. I was deeply meditating and visualizing all my wayward cells were all going to my toe to be removed upon surgery. I talked to my toe a lot.
My meditation helped me tremendously. I encourage everyone to have some kind of focused quiet time ready to be launched when we need it most. You cannot learn to be still when you are most vulnerable.
The morning of my surgery, I felt like I was going through the motions, but this was not really my life. It was surreal. Then it was time… Said goodbye to my husband, tearfully. I asked my surgeon to say a little blessing over my toe, thank it for all the fun of yoga, dance, walks, good times and take all the bad cells with it. As I was asking the anesthesiologist a question, I didn’t finish the sentence. I woke up in recovery about four hours later.
My husband tenderly arranged a foam leg rest, my pillows, and gave me the meds I needed. I cried because my body was so manipulated with heavy bandages on both my foot and my groin. I cried because I lost my toe. I cried because my body was filled with anesthesia. I cried because I did not know what was ahead. I cried for the loss of my healthy body and spirit of well-being I so cherished. I cried when I spoke to my family. I was overwhelmed by emotion and physical discomfort.
Meals, messages, cards, and flowers started flowing in. I was using a walker and Phil was by my side every minute, day or night. I could hardly take a sponge bath as I was pretty immobile.
My home office became my ‘Recovery Sanctuary’. As so many people sent flowers, my desk transformed to my ‘Recovery Garden’. I was surrounded by healing energy.
My immobility offered me a deep dive into my healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I immersed myself in many spiritual teachings, meditated daily along with long journal entries to process my feelings, experiences, explorations, and epiphanies.
Fortunately, my lymph nodes were clear. There were no abnormal cells in my body. HOORAY!
My grief was a constant source of revelation and sorrow. I could not look at my disfigured foot. The grief of death of a family or friend is very much in the mind and the heart. This bodily grief was so much different. I was totally in my body and at the most vulnerable, sad, overwhelming, and deepest place.
I experienced a cellular level of physical grief for my lost toe, a part of my body. Just as tree roots support and ‘speak’ to each other, I felt the same thing. It was as if my cells were grieving for the loss. It has been a very slow process for me to actually look at my foot, my fifth space, my newly designed body. I am slowly, with a prayer I wrote, with self-compassion, with a little pity party, and just feeling better, accepting what has occurred.
I wrote this prayer that I repeat daily to my, as I now call it, Fifth Space:
Dear 5th Space,
Welcome to my body. We will be lovingly connected. We will find emotional and physical balance together. You are a gift and I will continue to receive your offering.
Lovingly, The Rest of My Body
My loss, grief, and sorrow took up all the space within and around me. With each day of feeling stronger, that space is getting smaller, and I am resuming more of who I am aside from this most pivotal experience.
With my grief has come my existential crisis. Is it all random? Did I trigger this? What is my responsibility for this? Is there some meaning in all this? Is it just bad luck? Is there a message? I continue to ask with these questions from within. In my meditations, I call and thank my guides, my angels, the Divine energy, my beloved parents, my sister Susie, and best friend, Kaiya to guide me, protect me, and surround me. I believe that they do.
I have learned to look at this reality from the inside out rather than the external world influencing my internal world. I am a spiritual being having a human experience, not a human being having spiritual experience. That opens me to very wide exploration.
Each day is brighter. I am able to walk more, do more around the house, feel less dependent and vulnerable, and get back into a productive and active lifestyle. I will incorporate what I have experienced and learned as I move forward.
I am not sure how I can share my story and help others in the same/similar situation, but that is my next goal. I might create ‘Nine Toe Yoga” or incorporate physical grief as part of my Yoga for Living with Loss. This is my journey. Now, I will seek to find meaning from melanoma and me, and hopefully be of service to others.
Have you experienced a health issue that boggled your mind and created immense grief in your life? How did you cope with it? Have you shared it with others? What advice do you have for women in the same/similar situation?