Work, wellness and weighty matters

wellness

I got a message from Sam last night about the traction Friday’s posts about workplace wellness programs was getting and she asked me to weigh in (oh pun intended friends, pun intended). I’ve had the privilege to work in many different kinds of workplaces and wellness programs can look very different.

Life in the military

It was simple, to keep my job I had to meet a set physical fitness criteria as well as a level of medical and dental fitness to keep my flying status. All medical and dental care were fully paid for and I had access to a gym 24/7 and free fitness training. I had free access to social workers, addiction counselors, you name it in the field of wellness and fitness and I could access it at no cost to myself. I got work time to go to appointments. Luxurious, yes, paternalistic, definitely. My agency in it, approaching nil. My job was 3/4 sedentary sitting in a plane or sitting at a desk. The remaining time I was expected to lug and slug gear or be working out.

Life in the not for profit sector

There wasn’t a wellness program at either not for profit I worked at in my ten years in this sector. I once attended a workplace seminar, given by a medical doctor, who claimed that a work life balance was sleeping 8 hrs a day, working 8 hrs a day and keeping 8 hrs for your family each day. Did you notice he didn’t mention weekends? I’m pretty sure someone did his laundry, cooking and cleaning. I did have extended healthcare benefits and some dental coverage. Living in Canada means I always have  access to free basic care but some things aren’t covered and the extra health coverage comes in handy for prescriptions and eye wear.

Wellness was reduced to self-care and focusing on personal boundaries, which are routinely challenged by the emotional demands of not fot profit work and the blurring of the personal and professional for the sake of “the cause”. Low wages meant that I was unable to participate in many of the activities I wanted to for sheer lack of funds and a predictable schedule. When people fell ill it was chalked up to poor self care, a subtle victim blaming that erases the predictable cycles of burnout/vicarious trauma that accompanies work laden with emotion. My work was 3/4 desk work but events meant lugging gear and long days.

Life in a for profit corporation

I now have access to an onsite gym, a wellness spending account, a workstation ergonomic assessment and a plethora of resources, including onsite healthcare staff. At first I was really weirded out by the idea that my employer had so many components to their employee wellness programs. There are fitness challenges with stair climbing trivia, draws for prizes based on participation, nutritional analysis of all the cafeteria food. It’s all there and they are looking to add more. My job is the most sedentary of all the kinds of work I’ve ever had. I do not need to lift, walk or even climb stairs so I’ve really had to focus on breaks and walking to work to stay modestly active and not loose ground.

Between you, me and the apple tree

I know workplace wellness programs have a goal of reducing claims to benefits and the number of sick days employees take to benefit the employer. When programs are voluntary and accessible I think they can help meet a person’s health/fitness/wellness objectives. Between you, me and the apple tree I think many of these programs aren’t used by employees because, like many folks here have written, engaging in fitness and wellness is hard and the rewards are not always immediate. I’m skeptical that the employer’s needs and the employee’s needs are always in sync and I think we are quick to blame an individual for having shortcomings rather than critique, say, workflow design that leads to extreme sedentary work.

So if you are lucky enough to have paid work AND some kind of wellness program you are probably healthier simply because of your socioeconomic status more that participating in a specific program. I’ m still thinking on this and would love to hear your thoughts.

Wellness at Work: Are Employer Wellness Programs Really Win-Win? (Guest Post)

by Alida Liberman

Do you like to attend exercise classes, or try to walk a certain number of steps per day? Would your answer be different if your employer gave you a financial incentive for doing so, or required you to pay a penalty if you didn’t? Have you ever attempted to lose weight, quit smoking, or lower your cholesterol? How would you feel if you had to pay 30% more for your health insurance if you didn’t succeed?

Many employers offer wellness programs for their employees. I’ll be discussing wellness programs as they are outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the United States, although wellness programs exist in other countries, as well. Some wellness programs do things like provide employees with free gym memberships or reimburse them for the costs of a voluntary smoking-cessation program. Other wellness programs offer financial incentives for participation. Such incentives can be activity-only or outcome-based. Activity-only programs grant rewards for participation in certain activities, such as a diet program or exercise regimen. The results don’t matter; participation is all that counts. Outcome-based programs grant rewards to people who achieve specific health goals, such as lowering their cholesterol, BMI, or blood pressure. With these programs, results matter; you are rewarded if you succeed or penalized if you don’t, no matter how hard you try.

As of 2014, under the ACA employers are allowed to offer employees who participate in wellness programs up to a 30% discount on the premiums they pay for their employer-sponsored health insurance. (To read more about this policy, click here.) While this is often framed as a reward or bonus for those who participate, it can also be construed as a penalty for those who do not participate, as they have to pay up to 30% more than their participating peers.

This might seem at first glance like a win-win scenario: employees receive a benefit for participating in a program that makes them healthier as a result, which means that employers spend less on the healthcare costs that they are required by law to cover. But things are not as simple as they first appear. First, it’s not clear whether these programs actually save employers any money, especially when they focus on weight loss goals. And if any savings to employers are involved, it’s usually because costs are shifted to employees who do not participate in or meet the goals of wellness programs. More importantly, outcome-based wellness programs are morally troubling for multiple reasons, some of which I’ll discuss here.

First, outcome-based programs presume that the health goals they set are attainable—that with enough effort and determination, anyone should be able to reach them. But that’s not true, especially not for weight-related goals. Numerous studies have shown that dieting doesn’t work, and that we have a lot less control over our weight that most people think; even with exercise and a balanced diet, long-term weight is really hard, and for many people, impossible without surgery. And although the ACA requires that employers provide “reasonable alternative standards” for those who cannot meet the specific outcome-based goals they set, these standards might still be overly burdensome (e.g., an employee who cannot realistically get her BMI to a “normal” rate of 25 might be required to lose 10% of her body weight instead, which might still be very difficult goal to safely attain.)

Second, the particular health goals that are set by employers might be inappropriate. For example, employers might set an outcome-based goal that employees fall into a certain BMI range. But it’s widely recognized that BMI is a deeply flawed standard by which to judge whether an individual is at a healthy weight: it was developed to apply to whole populations rather than individuals, is based on flawed science, and doesn’t account for the difference in density between muscle and fat, which means that muscular folks with low body fat percentages are often inaccurately classified as obese. Financially penalizing employees for failing to meet a bogus standard is a big problem.

And penalizing employees for failing to meet particular weight goals would be problematic even if the goals were fixed by a better standard. For health and weight do not go neatly together in the way that many people assume: people who are “overweight” or “obese” according to the BMI can be very healthy, while people of “normal” weight can be very unhealthy. Furthermore, employees might be perversely incentivized to engage in disordered eating or other unhealthy behaviors in order to meet their target weight goals—in which case, the wellness program would have the opposite of its intended effect.

Third, if the financial incentives are large enough, we might worry that participation in the wellness program is not really voluntary, and that the employer is being coercive. It’s not clear at what point (if any) rewards can become coercive—if an offer can ever be so good that it cannot reasonably be refused. It’s even more likely that large penalties can be coercive. And workplace wellness programs might lead to peer pressure from co-workers to participate, which might be problematic.

Fourth, we should be concerned about inappropriate employer overreach. Are the health habits of employees who are off the clock really the business of employers? Attempting to alter these habits might seem unduly invasive, even if it does save the company money by reducing healthcare costs. It isn’t appropriate for a company to incentivize a certain behavior simply because it saves them money. For example, pregnancy and childbirth incur healthcare costs, but this doesn’t mean that employers can reward employees who do not get pregnant, or financially penalize those who do. Or consider how studies have shown that being in committed romantic relationships lowers stress levels, which leads to a reduced risk of disease. Does this make it okay for employers to reward employees who are already in such relationships, pay for couples counselling or eHarmony memberships for those who aren’t, and penalize those who fail to form such relationships? Clearly not; employers do not have the right to involve themselves in the private lives of their employees in these ways. Why then do they have the right to involve themselves in the private lives of their employees when it comes to weight loss and exercise habits?

Finally, I worry that wellness programs might disproportionately burden employees who are already unfairly burdened. For example, it’s harder for women to lose weight than it is for men, making it harder for women—especially women who have previously given birth—to attain outcome-based weight goals, which means that they are more likely to be financially penalized for failing to weigh a certain amount. Activity-only programs distribute burdens unfairly, as well. For participating in exercise regimens or diet plans requires a lot of time, as well as physical and emotional effort. Employees who work multiple jobs, who are attending school at night, who act as unpaid caretakers, or who have additional family and household obligations are the least likely to have such time and energy to spare, making them the most likely to be penalized for failing to participate. Finally, static financial penalties always disproportionately burden the least economically well off. Paying an extra $50 a month in health insurance costs might not be a huge burden for someone with a lot of accumulated wealth, but could be a massive burden for someone who has to stretch every paycheck.

For these reasons, I think we should be skeptical of many employer wellness programs. What do you think? Are these programs a good idea? What additional concerns do you have about them?

al

 

 

Alida Liberman is a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. She received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California, and currently researches ethics and bioethics. In her free time, Alida enjoys cooking, craft beer, going to the theater, and reading about feminism on the internet.

Freedom To Define Fitness: I’ll Do It My Way (Guest Post)

I’m new to the blog and feel it’s important to toss out a disclaimer before I continue: I am unapologetically fat and super great with that.

Now, you’re either tossing your hands in the air excitedly about that proclamation with a ‘yassss-girl-on-the-internet-I-don’t-know’ or you’ve hit the X and I lost you and that’s ok too. But boy howdy, am I having a time finding balance between fat, fitness, & fitting it all in. Perhaps sharing about it will help me figure a few things out?

jennhula

I have a desk job in IT and a whole lot of… we’ll call them reasons … that I’m not super active. My employer, however, understands that these reasons are a struggle and does something pretty great to help change that.

Working in the world of tech start-ups, it’s not uncommon to find two things especially to be true: really great snacks on site & an incentive to be active. Currently I’m working at a fantastic eCommerce company called Shopify and they’re really good at adding the –ify ending to lots of things, so Sportify as an athletic allowance just makes sense. What didn’t make loads of sense to me initially, however, were the really loose rules around what constituted appropriate spending of this well loved perk. Maybe this is because the previous unnamed IT company I worked for had such rigid ideas around how to spend their active bonus.

Many things we talk about and do are labeled and given boxes to live within, so this feels like a great space to deconstruct those ideas and truly consider what constitutes fitness or being active. 

But I NEED a definition!

Ok, ok! But I’m not going to link you to my favourite online dictionary definition or delve into the etymology of the word fitness, so if you need that I’m feeling fairly confident you can use the power of Google to self-serve. With that definition, the one you either already hold in your head and your heart or the one you just took 90 seconds to find, I’m challenging you to also find the meaning of and in fitness that speaks most to your needs right now and not just what you were taught in grade school.

Here’s a look at how 2 different IT companies suggest you spend the money they allocate to fitness/wellness:

The Other Co Gym memberships, some sports clubs, but not golf fees or hockey dues. Basically, we have a list and you’re welcome to ask us to consider your idea. We might say no.
Shopify Does it get you moving? Cool. Send us the receipt!*

* gym membership discounts on top of the Sportify incentive also exist at Shopify!

Don’t get me wrong here, both companies offer fantastic incentives and The Other Co actually offers more dollars per year despite the stricter guidelines. Not everyone is into going to a gym and some people really just need a supportive pair of sneakers for early morning walks on the boardwalk. I’m not into the business of comparing my physical activity (as low as it may be right now) with others. My walks on the boardwalk don’t compare to your gazillion reps of things I don’t understand in a fancy elite gym, for no other reason than they are two different things. Is one better than the other? Nope!

Different =/= better.

If two different companies can have such different ideas around how to spend money on helping you be active & fit, I say you can be in charge of your own defining of fitness in your life, too.  One of the most difficult things I know that I face as a fat woman, is just how unlikely it is that I will fit within the very design of the box made by The Other Co. Gyms are not a space I feel especially welcome or comfortable in, for example, yet they are the most common way for people to spend the incentives that workplaces offer for fitness. Nobody knows my body better than I do, and I’m telling you this: A treadmill is not what what body wants or needs. If you are invested in parking at the furthest corner of the parking lot to move that little bit more, then I applaud you for doing what you get to include in your own definitions around caring for your body. That doesn’t mean that I compare your outward act of grocery shopping endurance to the person who parks in the spot for people with disabilities or parents of small children.

Fitness is not a contest (unless you want it to be)

When did it become important to look at the people on either side of us and measure ourselves next to them in some sort of fitness currency, determining our worth based on how many marathons we have completed or how many really large tires we have flipped the length of a football field. What tool are we actually using to place this secret value on activities, that when we compare ourselves against we either feel very rich or as if we have insufficient funds? Can we not decide that, the only true fitness lack is when, by our very own definition, we are not doing the good things our bodies deserve by moving and caring for them?

I rather like Shopify’s approach to how I get to be the master of my own ideas around the needs of my body to be active, and happy, and healthy. So whether I spend my annual perk on killer sneakers for cross fit, new paddles for my canoe, some gear for my bike, a yoga ball and meditation CD, tennis lessons, a salsa class, or a hula hoop,  I am ultimately deciding for myself what constitutes Sportify. Where is this label in the rest of our fitness lives and how can we apply it positively in a way where nobody needs to feel fitness poverty when reading their friends’ Facebook status updates?

As for me? I bought a bike. The first bike I ever owned in 25 years. And I am terrified to ride it, but already it is so valuable to me on our short little journeys together. I plan to find my way with my bike and not once feel poorly about how others are faster, stronger, better, thinner than me. My fitness counts.

What about you? Are you feeling rich by your own definition of fitness? Are you able to applaud others for their milestones while also being mindful of your own ride being awesome and entirely unique? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

jenn

Bio: Queer, Fat, Feminist of intersections. Not so fit, but chewing on the reasons why and the ways to challenge what that means. No apologies for any of it.

When “pathetic” loses its irony

Awhile back I joined the Facebook group Pathetic Triathletes. It’s a fairly large, closed group. You need to be admitted into it by the admin. But there’s no screening going on, and it’s got over 7000 members.

With a name like “Pathetic Triathletes” you can imagine that the purpose of the group is to give triathletes a place for mutual support, information-sharing, encouragement, and so on, while also keeping it light. The “pathetic” is meant to be ironic and funny. A little bit self-depracating, a little bit of a reminder not to take ourselves so seriously.

People post about their successes. People post about their failures and mishaps. Failures, mishaps, questions that we assume we should already know the answers to but don’t — all of these are followed by the hashtag #pathetic.

So far so good. I myself have been known to take things too seriously. So what harm could it possibly do to be part of a Facebook group that favours the lighter side of triathlon?

Well, this past weekend I got the answer to my question when I waded into reading the comment thread after someone posted a link to Ragen Chastain’s post “When On-Line Trolls Become Real-Life Stalkers.”  As if the title of her post isn’t harrowing enough, the contents is downright frightening. She’s harassed daily by haters on-line in comments on her blog, her Facebook page, on reddit, in fat-hate forums (which, in my naivete, I didn’t even know existed but why should I be surprised).

The on-line stalking moved into real life when she attempted an Ironman 70.3 recently. Here’s some of what happened:

The short story of the IM 70.3 is that I took 2 minutes too long on the swim and got pulled off the course.  After changing out of my wetsuit I got my phone and posted to my FB wall:

IM 70.3 was a Total disaster, way worse than my worst case scenario. 2 minutes over the time in the swim, didn’t even get on the bike. Thanks to everyone for your support. Sucks to have a setback like this, but now I have a year to get ready so I don’t feel like this next year at the full ironman. I’ll post a race report in ironfat.com at some point.

My family and I decided to go grab some lunch and by the time we got to the restaurant my FB page was trollapalooza – party at Reddit’s house and everyone’s invited!  They were also engaging in one of their very favorite pastimes – lying to accuse me of lying.

But the creepier part of it was an athlete sidling up to her before the race to ask if she was bothered by what was said on reddit that morning. They had a brief interaction and she suspected he was a troll because he didn’t agree when she made negative comments about people who spend their time dissing her on reddit. After the race:

After the race I would find out that prior to the race the anti-me website had posted a minute by minute schedule of where I would be, including updating the site about my choice to wear my wetsuit and my 7:45am start time which I had talked about on my blog.

After my race ended, various forums and websites posted pictures and video that were taken of me and my family, some taken by people standing just feet away from me. Many of the pictures were taken after I had gotten out of the water and exited the athlete area, meaning that they couldn’t have been taken by someone competing in the race.  People online bragged about stalking me and my family, saying horrible things about my partner, my mother, and my best friend and his husband.

This may or may not have had anything to do with the guy who chatted with her before the swim. She has a point when she says she:

…tried to calculate the odds that someone who just happened to stumble upon a reddit forums about me ended up standing next to me in a group of 1600 athletes, recognized me in a wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and thought it was appropriate to ask about a forum devoted to hating me, in a way that assumed I both knew about it and checked the forum.

Now, enter the Pathetic Triathletes Facebook group. You’d expect a group that is supposedly supportive of all levels of triathletes from beginners to veterans, and who tries not to take itself too seriously (#pathetic!) to rally round a triathlete, any triathlete, who is brave enough to get out there and attempt at 70.3 distance event.

And some people did. But an alarming number of people jumped in and started saying similar things to the sorts of things she says are said by the haters and trolls on a regular basis.  And the meanness just kept on coming. And coming. And coming.

Where were the admin in all of this? I do not know. I think they eventually took it down. Either that or it fell so far down the page that I couldn’t find it when I went to show it to Sam because I was so astonished.  But not just astonished, also incredibly disturbed.

The vitriol just seemed so out of place for a group that presents itself as a welcoming community with a sense of humor. The fat-hate just kept on coming. And personal attacks on Ragen Chastain, accusing her of lying, of not really having the goals she has or the doing the training she does.  The assumption is that no one her size could possibly be doing what she is doing.  It’s a caricature of all the most entrenched prejudices and misguided assumptions about the relationship between body size, body fat, on the one hand, and health and the capacity to participate in athletic activities, on the other hand.

The comments also have a misogynistic gendered element to them that make them even more difficult to hear. Who but the most entitled and privileged members of our world think they have the right to say shit like that openly and earnestly in a Facebook Group?

I’ve struggled with the irony from the beginning because I guess in some ways I don’t actually think that claiming to be pathetic, even if meant to be ironic, is the best way to bolster confidence and feel good about what you’re doing.

But there was no irony in the hateful comment thread that followed Ragen Chastain’s post about her trolls and stalkers. Pathetic in the truest sense of the world. Like, what’s it to them that this woman wants to do triathlon? Why can’t she just do her thing and be left alone? It’s astonishing that people would have such a violent reaction when her efforts have literally no impact on their lives at all. Like, nothing. It’s sad.

So I left the group. And I have to say that despite the presence of lots of supportive and encouraging members, I cannot in good conscience recommend the group to anyone with an interest in body-positivity and feminism. You may as well go straight to reddit if you want read abusive hate against women who don’t conform to the narrow standards of femininity deemed acceptable by self-appointed gate-keepers.

It’s not that Ragen Chastain can’t stand her own against these types of people. She doesn’t need to be rescued. And thankfully she’s got more supportive fans than vocal trolls and stalkers. But I’m not about to stick around in a group where people feel entitled to talk that kind of fat-hating, misogynistic shit.

And I wish Ragen all the best in her quest to compete in an Ironman next year. You can follow her journey at IronFat.

Fit is Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #55

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?
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Would you wear a vagina dress?

Known as the Sahara Beaded Neck Maxi dress, the dress is a Wayne by Wayne Cooper design, currently retailing for $219 dollars. Not only does the dress feature a soft vaginal print, it also includes a vajazzled neckline. Available for purchase on the Australian website Myer, women are encouraged to wear it because it will help them to “embrace confidence.”
Let’s talk — just not about your diet, please
Sometimes, I just can’t think “schoolwork.” I can, however, think “blog.” And as promised, I want to continue to talk about some of the toughest parts of negotiating my happy/healthy life on a day-to-day basis.

Today, I want to talk about fat talk. I consider diet talk a form of fat talk. So I’m referring to the kind of chats about how fat we feel, how bad we were over the weekend, what we’re eating or not eating…you know the type. I’m talking about the endless conversations where we beat ourselves up about diet and the shape and size of our bodies, and the significance that we attribute to all of this.

23 Times Feminists Had The Perfect Comeback

When one girl got the last laugh.

8 Things A Feminist Looks For In A Partner, Because Conforming To Gender Roles Is Completely Optional

Starting at a young age, we receive a number of messages from the media, our peers, and our elders that train us to seek out imbalanced relationships: “Men should make the first move.” “Women shouldn’t want sex.” You’ve heard them; we all have. So what is a feminist relationship, then? Obviously they can be as varied and unique as the sheer number of people in the world, but what most feminist relationships have in common is this: They’re not based on the need for each person to play the “feminine” or “masculine” role all the time. They can, if each party chooses to — but they don’t have to. The partnership is such that everyone can express all sides of themselves, with every participant holding an equal amount of power.

With non-heteronormative relationships gaining more and more visibility, society’s scripts around dating have necessarily needed to change. Who should pay for dates? Who should take whose last name? Does anyone need to go changing their name at all? While previous generations may have had a set of standard answers for these questions, there is no longer any need for standard answers. Furthermore, there doesn’t have to be one person who is more dominant and one who is more submissive, or one who is more emotional and one who is more logical. While all of these changes may bring many daters into uncharted territory, it can be exciting to revise your concept of a relationship in motion. We don’t have to be limited to just one idea of what a “relationship” is — and that is enormously freeing.

This underwear campaign addresses body image… for blokes!

It’s hard to deny that women experience significant peer pressure from society and the media about body image ideals, but men aren’t exempt from these pressures either.

There have been numerous campaigns focused on positive body-image for women. Now an underwear campaign in Norway has decided to do the same for men. What do you think?

The company, Dressmann, is using real men to model their underwear using the tagline “Underwear for perfect men”. It’s a clever way to showcase the fact that a “perfect” body can come in any shape or size.

When Someone Can’t Believe Fat People Can Be Happy with Our Bodies

This is a weird phenomenon that has certainly happened to me and to my friends who are open about their fat acceptance, and loving their fat bodies.  The commentary can take a lot of forms, usually something like “Well, I can’t believe that you are really happy.” or “I could never be happy with my body if I was your size.”

This isn’t something that I find appropriate for someone to share with me regardless, but I have noticed the same thing that Jeanine did – it’s not really said as if they want to share their thoughts about their own body with me.  What it can often sound like is “I know better than you how you feel about your body” as if it’s a (cowardly) way of trying to accuse us of lying.

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Loving my post-mastectomy body (Guest Post)

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow - September 2015

So I was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer, and had a double mastectomy in September. I’m crushing this cancer thing so far. This blog post is a follow-up to three posts (about how I learned to fight breast cancer from doing martial arts, was super excited to be getting my breasts cut off, and had a boudoir photo shoot before my surgery) that I wrote this summer about my breast cancer, sports and body image.

If you’ve read my story, you may be wondering if things have panned out the way I anticipated. Am I still feeling upbeat about my diagnosis and prognosis? Am I as happy as I expected to be without breasts? Do I love my new body?

Yes, yes and yes.

According to the medical professionals involved in my treatment (nurses who’ve assessed and tended my incisions; my surgeon; my registered massage therapist), I’m healing at a blisteringly fast rate. I have nothing to compare my experience to – I’ve never had any other surgery. What I know for sure is that I don’t feel held back in any way since having my breasts cut off.

I had a few very short (seconds-long) moments of panic before my operation, but they passed as soon as I noticed them. I was calm (and bored) while I waited in “surgical daycare” (yes, that’s what it’s called) before my noon-hour date with the knife. I remember being pretty nonchalant immediately after I woke up from the anesthetic.

They sent me home about three hours after I left the operating room. I was cared for in the week following my surgery by my mom and a dear family friend.

The pain was bad. I will say that. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain (I barely noticed when I broke my collarbone and dislocated my a/c joint last fall), so I expected the surgical pain to fade quickly. Many women I’d spoken to had been able to quit their narcotics within three or four days of their mastectomies. That wasn’t my experience. The pain was an excruciating, burning sensation that covered a large area where my breasts used to be, and the narcotics they gave me didn’t touch it. (I stopped taking any kind of painkiller after about a week, since nothing seemed to help.) The pain was worse when I stretched or moved, so I became very tentative about moving too vigorously, and I couldn’t bear to be touched around my incision, or even wear tight clothing.

I sought help for the pain twice, but the doctors didn’t seem to have anything to recommend. They kept telling me to wait and see if the pain got better. Thankfully I have an excellent registered massage therapist who does myofascial work, and with my surgeon’s okay I started massage treatment 2 1/2 weeks after surgery to work on the tissue adhesions and restrictions around my incisions. I experienced an astonishing reduction in my pain after only one treatment, and after my second treatment was almost completely pain free. I would highly recommend myofascial work to anyone who’s had surgery. There are still many numb areas across my chest that may never recover feeling, but they don’t bother me.

The surgeon gave me exercises to do after surgery to help with the range of motion in my arms, and I had good range of motion within a week of surgery. The massage therapy has helped with range of motion as well. With my surgeon’s okay, I resumed my aikido practice two weeks after my surgery, and was immediately doing full practice with full contact and advanced breakfalls. I’ve lost nothing in terms of strength or stamina as far as my aikido is concerned. It’s been very physically and emotionally healing for me to do aikido, and I feel blessed to be able to continue with my practice.

I started a new job two weeks after my surgery, and have regularly been putting in 10-hour days, trying to accumulate some lieu time before my chemotherapy starts. Quite honestly, most days I forget all about the breast cancer. Life is good.

And I absolutely love my new body. Going through life without breasts is easy. It was an adjustment at first to see myself in the mirror – I look so different. I lost 40 pounds in the five months before my surgery, so I literally have a completely different body now that my breasts are gone. Plus I got my hair cut before surgery, so that I could donate it pre-chemo. It’s taken a few weeks to figure out what kind of clothes I like to wear now, but that part has been fun.

I’m not looking forward to some of the more troubling side-effects from chemo, but I won’t mind losing my hair. I’m more concerned about feeling weak and tired, and possibly having to give up aikido for a time.

My odds of surviving cancer aren’t the very best they could be – I’m pre-menopausal, had an invasive cancer that was sensitive to estrogen and progesterone, had five tumours in my right breast, the largest of which was 4 cm, and one of my lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. But I’m so happy to be alive right now, in this moment. I’m going to die someday; whether it’s 25 years from now or 25 months from now, I don’t want to waste my time worrying about how I’ll die.

I want to walk in the sunshine when it’s sunny, and dance in the rain when it pours. And flip upside-down, unharmed, when I’m thrown.

___

You may also be interested in these blog posts by Michelle about her breast cancer experience:

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.