Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Handless Maiden Has Foot Surgery

In 2010, shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I found myself having hand surgery. I had struggled with numbness and tingling in my hands since age 10, and it only got worse as I got older, especially after 30 years of practicing hands-on Osteopathy. I assumed that I had carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive microtrauma and overuse of my hands. I had tried everything alternative, and then after almost a year of rest due to my cancer situation, when I was feeling worse, not better, I decided to have surgery. 
Here’s a link to that blog entry from May, 2010:

My surgeon was surprised by 2 findings:
  1. He found an extra artery inside my carpal tunnel. It was an embryonic remnant of the median artery. This artery that helps provide nutrients to the developing embryo’s hands usually shrinks and disappears by about the 9th week of life in the uterus. Mine continued to grow and supply my hands with blood flow. However, the carpal tunnel was not big enough to hold it without compressing the nerve next to it. Every time I used my hands and increased the blood flow, I felt numb and tingly from the compression.
  2. I had an excess of extra tissue growth (like fluffy scar tissue) around my tendons and between the joints of my wrist. This was definitely a side effect of my cancer treatment.
Although my symptoms were the same as carpal tunnel syndrome, the causes were very different. He made some space around my extra artery and trimmed away some of the extra tissue that was clogging my carpal tunnel…and here I am 9 years later doing fairly ok in the hand department. 

However, my feet are now the issue. For the past 5 years, I’ve struggled with pain in the balls of my feet, with my right foot being significantly worse than my left. I blamed it on the repetitive irritation of dancing tango. Dancing in flat jazz shoes and hip-hop sneakers still puts excessive pressure on the front of the feet. I never danced in heels. In fact, in my entire life, I have never owned a pair of heels. Many tango dancing followers develop problems, especially neuromas, in their right foot from excessive pivoting. All of you tangueras know what I mean when I describe how a leader that leads too many ochos, molinetes, or calacitas can ruin the rest of your evening…as well as the next day, or 2 or 3. I assumed this is what I had. Once again, I was wrong!

After 5 years of struggling with the pain and the gigantic lump in my foot, I had foot surgery on 2/28. It went smoothly. It’s now 5 days post-op and I’m hobbling around the house in my walking boot. I haven’t needed any pain medication for the past 3 days. Last night I dreamed about dancing and hiking downhill (down has been more painful than up). I am looking forward to new pleasures when my foot is healed.

Leave it to me to have something "special" and different. It wasn't really a typical neuroma, which we had assumed. She (my wonderful orthopedic surgeon, Deborah Henley) removed a fibrous nodule (a wad of gristly scar tissue) larger than my thumb, right next to the sensory nerve in the ball of my foot between the 3rd and 4th toes (counting from the big toe as #1). Although she has removed countless neuromas, she has never seen one like this before. Neuromas are fibrous nodules that usually grow around the nerve, not in the space next to the nerve. Another mystery of my quirky body!

It is possible that it grew as a side effect of my anti-estrogen cancer treatment. No one knows why, but estrogen blockers causes certain tissues, like tendon sheaths and joint linings to thicken. So far, my research about whether or not anyone has found this oddity in other women on my same treatment regimen, has not revealed anything. I see the orthopedist on March 14th and I look forward to seeing what they found on the pathology report.

I have a very ugly little open-toed boot that velcros shut and is easy to get on and off that I will be fashionably sporting with warm socks until I can get my foot into a shoe. I call it my “dancing shoe.” I should be able to drive in a few days, which is a good thing, because I am planning on going to Kripalu for Robin Becker's Continuum workshop on 3/17 to dive into some serious rehab and healing. If you are free, sign up and meet me there!
Here's a link: https://kripalu.org/presenters-programs/coming-home-body-continuum-workshop

If you’re not free in March, maybe you can join me for my Kripalu workshop May 5 -10, 2019. Here’s a link to register: https://kripalu.org/presenters-programs/transformative-self-care-exploration-continuum-mindfulness-and-osteopathy

In the meantime, I'm spending a lot of time rolling around on the floor, doing micromovements, sending wave motion through my feet, and sending movement messages from my left (the other) foot to the healing foot. I hope to be dancing and hiking soon!

Why do I still refer to myself as “The Handless Maiden?" 
Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Jungian interpretation of this tale (Remember her? She wrote Women Who Run With The Wolves)  helped me through my hand ordeal, and continues to apply to the situation with my feet. The old tale of The Handless Maiden is about a woman's initiation into the dark realms of life through the rite of endurance. The word endurance has many meanings. It can refer to stamina, fortitude, tenacity, and the ability to go on in the face of hardship. To endure also means to make robust, to strengthen, and this is the foundational principal of the tale, and of the creative aspect of a woman's inner life. I'm not just tough and plowing ahead mindlessly; I am creatively adapting to the challenges I face.

I made another pair of hands for myself, and now I will make another pair of feet. This will in turn lead me to a new life. I am being as creative as I can as I continue to dissolve and reform my body into constantly changing versions that are capable of carrying me into the next part of my life. I yearn for a rest from this hard work and suffering, but it's not yet time to be done with this enduring.

My old Santa Cruz friend Mary Quillin sent me this poem when I went off for hand surgery. It still cheers me up and helps me navigate the turbulent waters of living in a body and encourages me to gaze beyond the ever-extending, ever-unfolding horizon.

Blessing the Boats (at St Mary's)
        by Lucille Clifton from Quilting Poems 1987 - 1990

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back
may you open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that