fitness · Guest Post

Adaptive exercise: When medical compression garments get in the way of working out (Guest Post)

A line drawing of a pair of legs, running towards the right side of the screen. The legs are wearing a pair of tan-coloured, thigh-high stockings, and the stocking on the right-hand leg seems to be slipping down towards the knee.

I started wearing thigh-high, medical-grade compression stockings a year ago; here’s what I’ve learned about trying to work out while wearing therapeutic compression clothing.

The discomfort started during the first shift of a new job. I’d just moved to a different part of the province, and I’d taken a temporary survival job to pay the bills. I was working on the sales floor of a large book retailer, and I Ioved being surrounded by books while I worked. What I didn’t love, however, was how much my feet hurt by the end of the day.

I tried cushioned shoes, which really helped, but I also decided to try compression socks (15-20 mmHg), figuring they couldn’t hurt. (Sam and Catherine have written in the past about the various benefits of wearing low-grade compression socks, here and here.)

Indeed, for the next couple of years, the knee-high stockings that I bought over the counter every few of months from my local drugstore seemed to do the trick. My foot pain immediately improved, and I was able to continue working 40 hours per week in retail (eventually at a fabric store, after my bookstore contract ended).

Then I noticed something troubling: I was beginning to get a bulging varicose vein on the inside of my right knee, above where my drugstore compression socks ended. It looked really gross… and on top of that, it eventually started to ache and throb badly – especially by the end of an eight-hour shift at the store.

My family doctor referred me to a vein specialist, and he recommended vein stripping, but I couldn’t afford the treatment at that time, since I was making minimum wage as a casual employee, without extended healthcare benefits. In fact, I couldn’t even afford the thigh-high prescription compression stockings that were his alternate suggestion. At nearly $200 per pair (and knowing I would need to buy at least 6 pairs per year), I gave up on that treatment plan, and continued with the over-the-counter knee-high stockings that I was already using.

(Even those were expensive, given my budget at the time. I usually had five or six pairs on the go, and they cost about $25 per pair. They had to be replaced every six months or so, when the heels wore through.)

Fast forward to the fall of 2020, when I was home quarantining after getting COVID-19. I was isolating in my bedroom, so that my housemate wouldn’t get sick, and I spent a lot of time lying down on my bed, or sitting cross-legged on the floor.

The bulging varicose vein on the inside of my right knee developed full-blown thrombophlebitis, or a blood clot in one of my superficial veins (which is thankfully less serious than deep vein thrombosis; but still painful, and requiring medical attention).

My family doctor eventually prescribed thigh-high, medical-grade (30-40 mmHg) compression stockings, and I resigned myself to both the expense and the awkward inconvenience of having to wear compression garments all day, every day – probably for the rest of my life.

(Chronic veinous insufficiency and chronic superficial thrombophlebitis are irreversible, progressive conditions that cause stagnant blood flow and swelling in the superficial veins of the legs, and are an occupational hazard for people who stand for long periods. The condition affects a diverse range of occupations, from retail workers and cashiers, to healthcare professionals (nurses, doctors, surgeons, pharmacists), teachers, chefs, food service workers and food servers, police, hairstylists and barbers, and industrial workers.)

I’m almost 55, and my retail career coincided with the most vulnerable age (50 and older) for developing problems with superficial leg veins. I eventually found work that didn’t involve standing all day, but sedentary workers (office staff, programmers, writers, drivers) are also vulnerable to chronic venous insufficiency. Sitting is the new smoking, right?

I’m at peace with wearing compression garments by this point. I genuinely feel better when I wear them regularly. (Which is not to say that I haven’t occasionally pushed back against my circumstances, and flirted with removing my stockings when I’m not actually working. The results have been resoundingly negative: I get a flare-up of phlebitis (vein inflammation) whenever I ditch the stockings, even for a few hours.)

One thing I’m really struggling with, though, is how to fit exercise into my life, when I have to wear my medical compression garments every waking moment.

Here’s the thing. (Actually, here are several things.) They’re hard to get on and off – especially if your skin is damp (from having recently showered, for example). It takes me a good two or three minutes to get them on first thing in the morning, and I have to be lying down (and wearing special, rubberized gloves) when I do it. Even if I were inclined to want to change them at some point during the day (which I most decidedly am not), they’re a royal pain to put on more than once per day.

They’re also really expensive. At nearly $200 per pair, I can only afford to have two pairs in circulation at any given time, alternating them every other day, and hand-washing them after each use. Each pair, worn every other day, lasts about four months, before I get holes in the heels. Sometimes the stockings wear out even faster, ripping at the area where the silicone band at the top (which helps keep them in place) meets the knit hose. (Thankfully, I can repair them myself with my sewing machine, but the tears definitely shorten their lifespan.)

They’re tight, but they also tend to slide down at inconvenient times when the silicone at the top of each thigh starts to lose its stickiness. Anything that dislodges the silicone cuff is annoying as heck. Hi-impact activities like running and jumping are impossible, if I don’t want to end up with my stockings fallen (and uncomfortably bunched-up) around my knees. Even deep leg bends and stretches can cause the stockings to slide down towards the knees, and I often find myself darting to the bathroom several times per day, to yank them back up.

They’re made out of synthetic materials, which means they don’t breathe. They’re hot… and when you sweat, they feel even hotter. They make my feet smell – every single day. Long, sweaty workouts in compression stockings would mean hot, damp, sticky and smelly body parts that can then develop other lovely conditions like fungus infections.

So after a lot of trial and error over the past few months, here are the conditions that I’ve decided I require for my physical exercise, while wearing compression stockings:

  1. Workouts that aren’t long enough to make me break into an uncomfortable sweat.
  2. Low-impact workouts, without a lot of extreme leg movements (unless I’m working out somewhere where I can continually be pulling my stockings back up).
  3. Workouts where I can wear loose, comfortable pants that don’t fit snugly on my legs, because the compression stockings cause serious “muffin-top” at thigh level, making it glaringly obvious that I’m wearing some kind of supportive hose.

Here are the acceptable-to-me adaptations that I’ve landed on, that allow me to work out without too much disruption to my life, or too much mental frustration from having to adjust the stockings, pull them on and off more than once per day, or sit around in damp, smelly stockings for long stretches.

  • I like taking casual, 15-20 minute walks, not far from home. I yank up my compression stockings as high as they will go before I leave the house, and I avoid walking too briskly, so that the stockings don’t start to drift down my legs during the walk.
  • I like working out inside my home, especially in my basement where it’s coolest, especially in the warmer months.
  • The other benefit of working out at home is that it doesn’t matter what I look like. I can wear close-fitting leggings without worrying what other people might think about the artificial lumpiness of my legs.
  • I prefer not working out at the beginning of my day, before I leave for work, so that I don’t have to wear sweaty compression stockings all day, or change my stockings. (I commute to my office job every day, although I will temporarily have a hybrid working arrangement when some office renovations begin shortly.)
  • When I’m working at the office, I like to add a lot of extra movement into my day – especially since I now have a very sedentary job where I work on the computer nearly 100% of the time. I take frequent trips up and down our office stairs – to visit the coffee machine (where I get hot water for herbal tea), or ask my colleagues questions in person, instead of emailing or phoning them.
  • I want to experiment with doing short bursts of movement in my office – things like wall pushups or desk pushups, or even a set or two of squats or lunges beside my desk.
  • For many years I’ve enjoyed taking short “dance breaks” at home, which last the length of one or two upbeat songs, and make me feel happy. Even if I get a little “bouncy” (and my stockings slide down my legs), I can pull my stockings back up without fear of being seen.
  • I did a lot of qigong exercises during my cancer treatment several years ago, and it’s recently occurred to me that they would also be good movements to do in my current circumstances.

I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, having to wear compression stockings is not the worst thing that could happen. But if you’d asked me when I was in my 20s or 30s if I could visualize myself wearing medical compression garments in my future, I probably would have been appalled and dismayed. (Cue the ageism of youth.) As with a lot of aging experiences, I’ve been really humbled by the changes I’ve had to make in my life as my body grows older. But I’m also glad that I have options, when it comes to moving my body and being healthy.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in the nonprofit sector by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, sewing flowered dresses, and making illustrations. You can find her on Instagram, here.


That time I bared my chest in a national commercial (Guest Post)

A screen shot of a YouTube video, which shows a middle-aged white woman standing at a mirror, zipping up her running jacket. Her chest is naked, and she has no breasts, but instead has two long mastectomy scars running horizontally across her chest.

“Is this you?”

I received a DM from a friend in early September. Attached to the message was a screen shot, from Facebook, of an ad campaign for the CIBC Run for the Cure – an annual breast cancer fundraiser in Canada.

“Yes, that’s me,” I replied. 

“Wow!” was the response. “That’s so awesome.”

Other messages started trickling in over the next few days, especially after I posted a YouTube link to the 30-second commercial from the same ad campaign. Which features me, at the 14-second mark, baring my naked chest, and exposing my two, 10-inch mastectomy scars, for all the world to see. (If you’re curious, I’m embedding the commercial below, or you could also click on this link, if you want.)

“You’re so brave,” was the frequent feedback. I think (but I’m not entirely sure, because I have trouble discerning the underlying the meanings and motivations behind many social communications) that they meant was, I was brave for revealing my scars in such a public way.

I agree that I was brave…  but maybe not for the reasons you think.

Then I got a DM from Sam last week, asking if I’d be interested in writing about my experience of being in the marketing campaign for the Run for the Cure, and I said yes. I’m still not sure if this is going to be very interesting for anyone, but here goes.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2015, and at that time I wrote here on this blog about my decision to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction, and about what it was like to go through the rest of my breast cancer treatment.

I didn’t make my decision to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction lightly, and I’m happy to say that six years later, I haven’t had one moment of regret about the choice that I made. 

In the years since my surgery, I’ve also become part of a large and diverse online community of “flat” women who have had one or both breasts amputated. And within that community I’ve experienced a lot of support, encouragement, and normalization of flat life. Trust me when I say, there are many women who have had their breasts cut off, and they are perfectly fine with not having breasts anymore.

So when the opportunity to feature my own scars in a commercial to help raise money for breast cancer research came along, I didn’t think twice. The production company was very upfront – they were hiring me because they wanted to feature my scars in the commercial. And I was similarly upfront: I’m okay with showing my naked chest. This is who I am. I’m proud of my life, and the body that goes along with it.

Don’t get me wrong. Breast cancer – and all of its psychological baggage – is a complex issue. Any cancer is frightening – it can be fatal, right? On top of that, breasts are bound up in how people with breasts (whether cis-gendered or trans) understand themselves, their bodies, their sexuality, their desirability, and in some cases, their value, in a culture where female breasts are repeatedly judged by their size, shape and density. 

In addition, losing a functioning part of our bodies can be fraught with physical and psychological trauma. (Not to mention the ongoing trauma of cancer treatment itself, which can include radiation and chemotherapy in addition to surgery, with or without reconstruction.)

Cancer of any kind sucks. Breast cancer can be especially sucky. 


I am happier in this body – this less-gendered, more-neutral, less-sexualized body – than I ever felt when I had breasts. I feel less like I am missing something, and more like I had something unwanted – and foreign and alien – removed.

I am more wholly me – Michelle Lynne Goodfellow – without breasts, than I ever was with them. My experience of my life without breasts is better than my experience of my life with breasts.

So I didn’t think twice about showing my breastless chest in a national commercial. I’ve already been living my life as a visibly flat woman, 24/7, for the last six years. This is just who I am.

I also happen to have very little body shame. I’m comfortable with this body (although I wasn’t always). My body is a certain size, and it has lots of lumps and bumps in addition to my surgical scars. It works pretty well, for a body of my chronological age. (Although its function seems to be declining, which I’m not thrilled about.) If I knew how I got to this level of body confidence, I’d tell you. I have a feeling that more people would like to be as comfortable with their own bodies as I am with mine.

No, what made me brave about acting in a television commercial with my naked chest bared was the acting part itself. 

You see, I’ve secretly wanted to be an actor for most of my life. It’s been on my bucket list for years, to somehow be a small part of the film industry. (I love film so much, I even have a university degree in film studies.)

But I also have crippling performance anxiety. I worked through a lot of it when I was a classical singer who performed regularly (mostly with choirs), but if anything, my performance anxiety got worse as the years went on, not better. (I eventually stopped singing in public completely.)

Not only do I have crippling performance anxiety, I have crippling anxiety, period. I have Complex PTSD from some experiences in my childhood, and for most of my life, anxiety and a pervasive hyper-vigilance have been my “normal”. With the help of a caring therapist over the past couple of years I’m beginning to feel that something different is possible for me…  but it’s still a struggle to interact with people, and to be the centre of attention, and to have my performance critiqued. 

(After almost every social encounter, for example, I can spend hours ruminating about what I said and did – sure that I did everything wrong, sure that the people I was talking to disliked me, sure that I have nothing of value to offer to any interaction.)

So it was very, very brave of me to audition in front of strangers, reading lines that I’d just seen for the first time five minutes earlier. And it was very brave of me to travel to Toronto from my home in the Niagara Region, to have people do my hair and makeup, and have professional photographs taken of me. And very brave of me to travel to Toronto again to try on clothes for the video shoot. And very brave of me to participate in the filming itself – subjecting my performance to the judgements of not only the production crew, but the marketing team, and the “client” – the marketing staff of the Canadian Cancer Society, and the CIBC sponsorship team.

After the filming, the hard part was over. Having the commercial (and the print campaign) released nationwide was no big deal, compared to that.

I’m really glad that the commercial touched people, and hopefully encouraged them to donate to breast cancer research. I’m also really glad that I did something really difficult for me, and survived it. 

(Oh, and I’m glad I survived cancer, too.)

If you have breasts and live in North America, you have a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer in your lifetime. To help catch breast cancer early, when the chance of survival is better, check your breasts regularly. Know what they feel like, and notice if they change. (My breast cancer was diagnosed because I felt a change in my breast.)

If you want to help create a world where people don’t have to fear cancer, donate to your preferred cancer research organization. You might even want to donate specifically to research aimed at a finding a cure for cancer. (There is currently no cure for stage 4 cancer.) Thank you for reading, and for caring.

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

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works at a fabric store by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, and making illustrations. You can find her on Instagram, here.


The (gradual) recovery of my sense of smell (Guest Post)

Image: a line drawing of a hand holding a fish, made with black Sharpie. The fish is coloured gold.

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. She’s been writing about her COVID experience.

Losing your sense of smell is so odd. At least, I’m finding it so. Maybe because I had such a sensitive sense of smell, to start with. 

My whole life, I’ve been bothered by smells that don’t seem to affect others. Or I’ve been bothered by smells that other people can’t even smell. Because of my migraine headaches, I had something called “hyperosmia,” which made me very sensitive to scents like perfume, cleaning products, solvents (like Sharpies or oil paint), or even biological odours like vomit, urine and feces. 

All of those smells could trigger a migraine, and if I already had a migraine, all of those smells seemed 10x stronger while I had a headache. Scientists aren’t sure what causes hyperosmia in migraineurs, but one hypothesis is that the neurons involved in identifying odours get overstimulated or amplified in some way, compared to the neurotypical mechanism of smelling.

When I had a migraine, all of those smells seemed so bad, they would turn my stomach – even make me vomit. I often felt like I was trying to get away from many smells, as if eliminating them altogether would make me feel so much better. My hyperosmia was even part of the reason that, when I founded a home-cleaning business, I chose to use only eco-friendly products. I just couldn’t handle the odours from the typical cleaning products that you find on grocery store shelves.

I’ve always hated going to a salon for a haircut, because of the overly-scented shampoos and conditioners floating through the air. And heaven help me if they put them on my own head – there’s no getting away from the smell of perfume-y shampoo or hair product, even if you wash your hair several times afterwards. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

Over the years I’ve had so many disagreements with friends and relatives, who wanted to wear their favourite fragrances or colognes around me. The fragrances made me so ill and uncomfortable. Don’t even get me started on scents in the workplace; I’m just thankful that many places now have scent-free policies.

Well, now I get to experience life without any of those smells. At all. And yes, in many ways, life is very much better because of it. But it’s also so much flatter and duller, too. Careful what you wish for, right?

During my quarantine for COVID-19, I would draw in my bedroom for hours, to pass the time. It was so much nicer, when I couldn’t smell the Sharpies that I use for making dark outlines. To this day, I still can’t smell Sharpies when I draw. I only smell them if I stick them right under my nose. And I don’t seem to be affected by the invisible solvents that I can no longer smell, either. I’ve had several migraines since losing my sense of smell, and I haven’t noticed any correlation between using Sharpies and getting the migraines.

At any rate, since getting COVID and losing my sense of smell, I no longer have hyperosmia either before or during my migraines. Meaning, I don’t seem to smell more acutely during a migraine, post-COVID. Which makes me wonder if the mechanism that causes the loss of smell from COVID is different from the mechanism that causes the hyperosmia from the migraines. And I wonder if the hyperosmia will come back, if and when my sense of smell comes back.

I think I wrote about this before, but life without a sense of smell is very disorienting – very flat. Food doesn’t taste the same, and doesn’t appeal to me as much (although, thankfully, I can still appreciate the basic tastes that we get from the taste buds in our tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, and (I’ve learned since losing my sense of smell) the “taste” of fat).

If you can imagine the difference between watching television in black and white, versus watching television in colour, that’s how life seems to me, without smell. Everything is almost the same…  but not as vivid. There’s something missing, and most of the time, I don’t even notice precisely what’s missing until afterwards. When I realize I haven’t smelled the “essence” of the place, or the experience.

Our sense of smell is so elemental. Our memories are so closely tied to smell. Think about it – how do you feel emotionally, when you smell that first “smell” of fall? Or the smell of the first rain of the summer, on hot pavement? 

I work in a fabric store, and I recently had my first day back to work since getting COVID. I realized afterwards that I hadn’t been able to smell the “smell” of a fabric store. (Which is probably the smell of fabric sizing, dye, and other chemicals – which, come to think of it, doesn’t seem too healthy).

I’m an avid sewer. I haven’t ironed anything since I’ve been sick, but that’s another smell that brings back lots of memories for me. Hot fabric under the metal iron. Or the smell of my fabric stash, that’s been packed away in bins for months (or years). It’s a very specific odour, that reminds me of playing with my mother’s fabric stash when I was a child.

The smell of baby powder reminds me of real babies, and also of locker rooms when I was younger. The smell of clementines reminds me of Christmas. The smell of turkey roasting also reminds me of Christmas. The smell of cookies baking makes me think of my mom. 

If we are able to smell, so much of our lives is tied to, and anchored by, our sense of smell.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that I’m happy not to smell. I can’t smell my own poop. I can’t smell my own body odour. I can’t smell the yucky barnyard smells that are common in the rural area where I live. That’s kind of nice.

I also can’t smell things burning, which kind of concerns me. Our smoke detector is often triggered when we open our hot oven, and each time it goes off lately, I interrogate my mom: Is something burning? Do you smell something burning?

I want to know if I’m missing something that could save (or cost me) my life. So far, I can’t smell burning (or “hot”) things.

Is there anything that I can smell, right now? Yes – although so far, all the regained scents are very faint. But when each new thing is added it’s absolutely delightful. It’s like having a beloved, long-lost friend come back into my life.

One of the first smells to return was essential oils. I had several bottles in a drawer in my bedroom while I was in quarantine, and every day I would sniff some of them deeply. The day when I could smell “something” – and then correctly identify the oil – was a happy day.

(Interestingly, some of the essential oil scents came back faster than others. That’s a strong yes to tea tree, oregano and lavender. Any of the mints are still so-so. Citrus fruits are faint, but identifiable. Woody scents (spruce, pine) are still hard to identify, and almost un-smellable.)

One day after my quarantine was over, Mom was frying an egg for breakfast, and I suddenly realized that I could smell butter frying! That was a happy day.

Another day, I was drawing with some children’s markers that are scented like fruit. I suddenly realized that I could smell the blueberry marker. Also, the grape one. (But not the banana, orange, cherry, or green apple. Weird.)

Yesterday when I got home from work, I could smell baking when I walked into the house. I asked Mom what she had made – if it was a treat for me. (I was hoping for shortbread cookies.) It was a pumpkin pie. I couldn’t identify the scent of pumpkin spices, but I could definitely smell “sweet baking, warm from the oven”. Happy day.

Last night I was cooking some chili in my slow cooker, and after a few hours – when I walked towards the cooker, to turn down the heat – I could suddenly, faintly, smell chili. That was a happy moment.

Earlier today, I was washing out some empty containers from a natural deodorant that I use. I had put them to soak in some hot, soapy water in the kitchen sink, but forgotten all about them. A few hours later, Mom asked if I would finish cleaning them up, because the smell of rose and lavender essential oils was so strong that it was making her (who also suffers from migraines, and hyperosmia) nauseous. I couldn’t smell a thing. 

Today, as I was writing this, I reached over and took the lid off a black Sharpie, and sniffed it deeply. I could faintly smell “Sharpie”. I’m not so thrilled about that.

So there we are. I feel like I’m smelling the world through a thick layer of gauze. Most of the time, I don’t notice any odours. But then occasionally, something will pop through, identifiable, and I remember that the world smells like things. 

I wonder if I could be happy with only half a sense of smell (i.e. if my hyperosmia is gone for good). I know I could get by. But I suspect that – as unpleasant as hyperosmia is when it’s bad – I would still miss it, if it’s gone forever. A lifetime without a rich and deeply complex panorama of odours? Not sure I want that.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.

covid19 · fitness · Guest Post

Hanging on to my mental health while quarantining with COVID-19 (Guest Post)

Image: A photo-collage of several different ink and coloured pencil drawings

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

(Content warning: Recovery from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I’ve written and re-written this post so many times over the past several days. When I’m really honest about how much I struggle with my mental health (Complex PTSD), the writing feels like it “over-shares,” to the point of self-immolation.

So then I start writing the post all over again, leaving out more of the graphic parts. This is, like, my fourth or fifth attempt at describing how I coped with having COVID-19.

I have Complex PTSD. All I’m going to say about that is, I live pretty much 24/7 with an underlying feeling of unease. And if I examine my feelings too closely, (or if something happens to trigger my lifelong, maladaptive coping mechanisms), the unease quickly escalates into existential despair, and it’s a bit of a horrorshow.

Please don’t worry about me – I have very, very good (and accessible) mental health care. We have a treatment plan, and we’re hitting some really reassuring milestones. I’m encouraged, for probably the first time in my life, that my traumatized brain can be retrained, and I can feel safer, and eventually make different choices about how to keep myself safe and relate well to others.

But for now, I’m still in the middle of things.

So getting COVID-19 was… a bit of a hiccup in the road, shall we say. Kind of like a flat tire, I guess. I could tell that the driving was rough, and it took me a bit of road to realize what was going on. And then I pulled over, and assessed the situation, and got out the spare tire, and worked on replacing the flat. And realized that there was a second flat…

And now that my quarantine is over, I’m driving back down the road again, and I have two repaired tires, but it’s kind of a little hazy how I got things sorted. I have the feeling I spent a lot of money on towing charges and the repairs on two flat tires, and I don’t want to look too closely at my bank account right now. Figuratively speaking.

If you can relate to any of the above, here’s my best recollection of how I made it through several days of quarantine in my 120-square-foot bedroom, with no face-to-face contact with my 77-year-old housemate (my mom), in order to protect her from catching the disease. (And thankfully, we were successful – she has since tested negative for COVID-19, and we’re happily sharing air again…)

Lots of sleep
I’ve suffered from very severe insomnia for nearly 15 years, and for most of that time I’ve really *been* suffering. It would probably take a whole other post to describe how I’ve solved my insomnia problem, but suffice to say, I seem to have solved it. And for two weeks before I caught COVID, I got the best sleep of the past 15 years – at least seven, and usually eight, hours per night.

And I was really noticing the benefits of all of the sleep, in many areas of my life. I was less tired, for one. I had more energy. I was also able to cope better with minor frustrations, and let things roll off my back, when in the past I would start spinning out, emotionally.

So continuing to get good sleep was a conscious priority, once I got sick. And I can report that, apart from the night immediately following my positive test result (when I got maybe five hours of sleep), I was successful in continuing my good-sleep streak. I still wake up in the middle of every night, and it’s not always easy to get back to sleep (it’s a habit that I’m still trying to instil in my brain), but I know it’s had a huge positive impact on my ability to cope with having COVID, and being stuck alone in my bedroom for days on end.

Grounding myself physically in the present moment
The first few days of my quarantine were the toughest, and I spent most of those days in a kind of frantic, mental running-away from my emotional (and physical) distress. To go back to my flat tire analogy, it’s like I drove on those flat tires for a while – probably longer than was good for my rims – before I could admit to myself that yes, I needed to get off the road and take a look at what might be wrong with my car.

And when I finally pulled to a stop, the first thing I did was, I just stopped all the frantic busywork (the phone calls to friends, the texting, the social media scrolling, the YouTube scrolling, etc.). I knew that in the past (when I was in breast cancer treatment) I’d really enjoyed doing some bodywork – especially qigong. I have some favourite qigong videos on YouTube that I like to follow along with. I watched those videos, and I did the movements.

I did some Alexander Technique lying-down work. (Again, it would probably take a whole post to describe the Alexander Technique, but I trained for a year to become an Alexander practitioner, and it’s a form of bodywork that is deeply engrained in my brain, so it was easy for me to pick it up again.)

I also did a really soothing foam rolling routine that was developed by a certified structural integrationist (Rolfer), that I learned several years ago from my registered massage therapist. And finally, I did some restorative yoga poses that I really enjoy.

All of the above calmed down my nervous system, and helped ease my constant anxiety and hyper-vigilance. I also went outside for a twenty-minute walk around my property every day, as well.

Finding healthier (for me) replacements for my compulsive behaviours
To numb my emotional distress, I turn to many different “unhealthy” diversions to block out or numb my feelings. I could see early on in my quarantine that I was getting pretty compulsive about things like napping, social media and device use, watching videos, and talking to or texting friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those activities – I was just bouncing from one to the other so frequently that I knew I needed to find some more grounding alternatives.

Cleaning and organizing my spaces is one of my favourite ways to calm my mind. I need to have my spaces very spare, very minimalist. Clutter (even rumpled sheets) agitates me too much. I usually have a pretty simple and tidy bedroom (I try to avoid doing anything in my room but sleep, when I am well). So I was already starting from a good place, but I got into the habit of “tidying” my bedroom several times per day during my quarantine. I would make my bed (yes, more than once every day), put away any dirty clothes, remove any garbage, and put away anything I’d been using (like my ukuleles, or my sketchbooks, or my yoga cushions, or my foam roller).

Drawing became my favourite go-to activity during quarantine. It’s slow, it requires attention (but not too much brain power or focus), and the kinds of drawing I like to do require tiny, repetitive movements that slowed down my body, and in turn, my brain. It got to the point where I cleaned out one of the drawers in my dresser, and filled it with a lot of my drawing supplies (several sketchbooks, pens, coloured pencils, markers).

When I look back over all the drawings I worked on during my quarantine, I feel proud of my ability to self-soothe, and regulate my emotions. I hadn’t done much drawing in recent months, and my quarantine reinforced to me that a daily drawing practice would probably be a good thing for me in the recovery of my mental health.

By the time my quarantine was over, I had a daily routine that felt comfortable and reassuring. If anything, it panicked me more to end my quarantine (and expose my self to my mom again, even though I knew that logically that I was no longer contagious) than it did to be in quarantine in the first place.

I think everyone who gets COVID will have a different experience with the disease; I know I definitely had a very mild case. But I hope that everyone who gets COVID can find a way (or ways) to deal with the emotional and psychological aspects of being ill during a pandemic, with a potentially life-threatening virus.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.


COVID took my sense of smell (Guest Post)

Image: A spiral-bound sketchbook open to a line drawing of the anatomy of the inner nose.

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

(CW: disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, bingeing, food restriction)

They say loss of smell is one of the symptoms. Some say it should even be one of the defining symptoms – it’s so specific, so telling of COVID, especially early on.

For me, it didn’t happen until a few days in. Or maybe it happened so gradually, I didn’t notice until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I put on my essential oil diffuser for the first time in a few days, but this time I couldn’t smell it. I wondered if I’d forgotten to turn it on after I filled it.

I checked. It was on.

Hmm. That’s weird.

I went to my box of oils, and pulled out the peppermint. Removed the lid. Sniffed deeply. Could I smell it? I smelled… something. I think. 

Here. Try this. I grabbed a bottle at random, and without looking, raised it to my nose.

Oregano? Oregano or… marjoram?

I looked at the label. Lemon. 

Shit. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck shit.

(Which is also what I said when I first found out I had COVID – minus a few shits, and plus a few more fucks.)

You have to realize, I love my sense of smell. Loved. Loved my essential oils so much. This is not good.

I ate my lunch after that. Was taste gone, too? I ate a prune. Tasted sweet, but that’s all. None of the wine-y, rich flavour of prunes. It was like chewing a sweet, nonspecific gummy candy.

The rest of my meal was the same. I could distinguish salty and sweet, maybe a hint of acidic. And that’s all. The food felt like bland lumps in my mouth, where I was used to savouring explosions of fragrance and complexity.

Since then, I’ve realized that I still feel hunger. I still crave food. But the food merely fills my stomach. It nourishes my body, but not my soul. I can barely finish anything. I just don’t enjoy it anymore.

The implications of this feel really vast, to me. Not only do I love to smell beautiful things, I also really love to eat delicious food. (And cook – I love to cook! A big part of that is the scents and the flavours, for me.)

Life is definitely weird, without smell. I thought everything seemed flat because of how sick I felt, but now I realize it feels flat because a whole dimension of my experience is missing.

Most people get their sense of smell back, after they recover from COVID. But not everyone does. I don’t think I’ll be very happy if mine doesn’t come back.

(Content warning: eating disorders)

One positive effect (for me) is the impact on my appetite, and my ability to regulate the amount of food that I eat.

I’ve struggled with Binge Eating Disorder since I was a teenager. COVID shutdown last March (combined with ongoing trauma therapy) triggered a recurrence of my bingeing. Since the beginning of October I’ve been using a mindful eating technique that includes no snacking between meals, but no restrictions on what I eat at mealtimes. I’ve been really successful at eliminating snacking (eating when I’m not hungry), but I’m still working on becoming mindful of when I’ve eaten enough at mealtimes.

(Which is eating-disorder-recovery code for: I’m still often overeating, although not bingeing.)

Since losing my sense of taste, however, I can easily stop eating when my body’s full. I just don’t crave food anymore.

(Still not worth the loss of my sense of smell, though. Just saying. But if I could maybe carry this lesson forward if/after it comes back…?)

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.


Finding out I had COVID-19 (Guest Post)

Image: Two weeks’ worth of days written on a sheet of paper on a clipboard. The dates are November 15th to 28th. The dates up to November 22nd have been crossed off, and November 28th is specially circled in bright yellow.

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

In Ontario, where I live, there’s a website where you can check for your COVID results. And because I got my test done at a hospital, I could also use the hospital’s patient portal.

(They suggested they might post the results faster on the patient portal. Umm, no. Close, but the Ontario results page won that race.)

I tested at at 5pm on a Wednesday night. Starting Thursday around noon, I kept checking and rechecking every couple of hours.

Nothing Thursday. Nothing Friday morning.

Finally, around noon Friday, I tried again. Refreshed. Entered my health insurance information.

New screen. My heart stopped when I saw the red POSITIVE notice.

Lots of internal swears. Immediate call to my workplace, to let them know for sure. (I’d been self-isolating with symptoms since Wednesday morning.) Texted my sister, while simultaneously calling my 77-year-old mom. With whom I share a house. And who was sewing in the bedroom across the hall. (We’ve been communicating by phone or FaceTime (and Messenger) since Wednesday morning.) Chaos for about 10 minutes, while all the important people were brought up to speed.

I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could believe it. I’m the most vigilant, most diligent, most COVID-prevention-protocol-rules-following person I know. How and when did I mess up badly enough to get COVID? HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN?

(After contact tracing, we still don’t know. I’ve had no known, close contact with someone who’s also tested positive.)

My first thought was for Mom’s safety: PleasepleasepleaseGod don’t let her get it.


I didn’t care for myself. Wasn’t really worried for myself (although I still wake up every morning doing a cautious body check: Has anything changed overnight? No? Sure? Good…)

I don’t enjoy not knowing things. I didn’t like not knowing whether I had cancer or not. I didn’t like not knowing if I had COVID or not. Not-knowing sucks.

But my default not-knowing strategy has, over the years, become, Don’t worry until you know there’s something to be worried about.

Well, now there’s something to worry about.

This rule-following woman became the self-isolation poster child. Since Wednesday morning – not Friday, when I found out my result.

I live in my bedroom. I don’t leave it except to go to pee etc. in our home’s only bathroom, or to go outside for a walk on our property. (Or to occasionally get something from the basement, where I have a sewing and art studio that Mom doesn’t go into.)

I have five more days of quarantine, as I write this. Mom has a few days more than that. I have never so badly wanted to wish away time as I do right now. I want those five days gone. I want everybody (Mom) okay. If she doesn’t have symptoms by the end of my quarantine, she needs to be tested herself. And her quarantine will be over shortly afterwards. PleaseGod.

I don’t talk much about my mental health. Haven’t so far, anyhow. But the hardest part of getting COVID is managing the anxiety and the negative thought-loops that are my coping mechanisms left over from early childhood trauma. I’m in trauma therapy right now – have been for several months – and I’m getting a lot better at coping with stressors and triggers. Still. It’s been a ride.

I try to go for a walk outside every day. I can walk around my yard while in quarantine, so I do – several times around the edge of the whole property: down the driveway to the drainage ditch, across the front lawn to the treeline, along the treeline to the edge of the field at the back (with its stubble of wheat stalks left behind after the fall harvest).

Along the edge of the wheat field to the other side of our property, up over the berm planted with spruce trees and down again, beside the bird feeder that Mom watches from her living room recliner, along the side of the garage, and down the driveway again.

Four loops takes about 20 minutes. I’ve been wearing my Vessi waterproof shoes to trudge through the light dusting of snow. (The waterproofness works, so far. I should try to get a sponsorship. “Wear your Vessi shoes to walk around in your snow-covered grass yard during your COVID quarantine.” (Yes? Probably not…))

On today’s walk, I listened to the scared parts of me. The little girl parts, who are afraid of big, scary things like losing my mother.

And the grown-up Michelle let them be scared, and that was progress. She made space for their panic and their keening.

And I go back into my room, and cross off the quarantine days on a self-made calendar. Five more sleeps. Five more sleeps…

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.


My COVID-19 test (Guest Post)

Image: A sketchbook; on the left page is the back of a greeting card, with an image of the sun shining. On the right side is a line drawing of a similar shape, altered to resemble the coronavirus

Past contributor Michelle Lynne Goodfellow was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. To pass the time during her quarantine, she wrote about her COVID experience.

There’s a game I play with myself when I’m driving at night. I hate darkness – hate how it closes in, and makes the world disappear while I’m driving down the road at 80 kilometres an hour. 

So when I’m driving in the dark, I pretend it’s Golden Hour. I pretend the sun is low in the sky behind me, giving the landscape a soft glow. Imagining this golden light makes me strangely happy.

The night I drove myself to my COVID test, the sun was literally setting. I didn’t have to imagine the golden light – it was already there. I tilted my visor to block the yellow sun-ball, and let my eyes soak up the beautiful light all around me.

This is an auspicious sign, I thought. I’m driving to a COVID test, but it’s so lovely. 

I drank it in. The peaceful drive, the light. I tried to forget the real reason for being in that car at all.

The test centre was in an urgent care hospital where I’d been before. I thought I knew where I was going, but had a moment of doubt when I turned onto the street. I hadn’t used the GPS before my trip – did I remember right? Was this it?

I was supposed to show up for the test exactly on time. Not early, not late. There was nowhere to wait, inside. So I was anxious that I had chosen the correct cross-street. I didn’t have any extra time to stop and turn myself around.

The street was right. I saw the hospital up ahead. I passed by the parking lot, because I knew there was more parking at the back. Except when I got there, that lot was full. Running out of time, running out of time, I went back to the first parking lot. Stashed my parking ticket in my bag. Where was the parking kiosk? I would have to find it before I left.

I race-walked to the back of the building, and entered. Someone covered in PPE gave me some hand sanitizer and a surgical mask. I had to take off my homemade cloth mask to put it on, and I felt a kind of shameful shyness about exposing my naked face in a hospital, during a pandemic. Like a girl trying to change out of her bathing suit on a beach under a towel, I tried to whisk the new mask under the old one, so that no-one would see my nose and mouth. It was less than graceful.

And then it didn’t matter that I was on time – there was a line-up at the intake counter. When my turn came, the receptionist indicated a piece of paper that I should put my health insurance card on. I placed the card face up, turned towards her, so that she could read it without touching it.

When she was done typing all her computer magic, she told me to pick up the paper along  with my card – it was instructions for getting my results. Okay. That made sense. I liked the economy of that little piece of paper, all of a sudden.

The waiting room chairs were roped off with crime scene tape. (Not really crime scene tape, but definitely yellow. Caution tape?) I stood, six feet away from anyone else, waiting for my name to be called. 

It was fast. A short bottleneck in front of a man in more PPE, who asked me why I was there. My mind went blank. Why was I there? Why did they *think* I was there? I stuttered my symptoms.

When I said shortness of breath, he asked, “Congestion?” I started to tell a story that I realized, one sentence in, was going to be too long. Quick course-correction; I said it was hard to talk. I think he mentioned something about going to the hospital if my breathing got worse. And then I was whisked away to a consulting room.

The (technician? nurse?) looked scared, and asked me to lower my mask below my nose. Again, more shyness. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I said inside my head, apologizing to this young woman covered in PPE, who was about to be exposed to my bare nose.

She put a long, thin plastic thing in my right nostril, and twisted it lightly. Said it might make me sneeze, or make my eyes water.

It was no big deal. You hear so many things – Oh, the COVID test is awful, they shove a swab so far up your nose it hurts…  It wasn’t like that. A tiny, noticeable rotation, deep inside my nose, and then it was over. 

My eyes were shut, and I was very still. She asked if I was okay, and I realized I had been holding my breath, waiting for it to be bad, but it never got bad. I opened my eyes.

Follow the exit signs to leave. One more minute, and I was outside in the dark.

The parking payment kiosk was also dark. I shrugged nervously, and figured I could pay by credit card at the exit gate. When the time came, the gate when up without needing a payment. Sweet. That was nice of them, to give us free parking.

The drive home was not golden. I hate the darkness – hate how it closes in and makes the world disappear while I’m driving down the road at 80 kilometres an hour. I imagined Golden Hour light, and tried to forget where I’d been.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, and maker. You can see some of her creations on her Instagram feed.


I walk 20K steps a day… and I’m getting rid of my Fitbit (Guest Post)


Sam’s recent dilemma about whether or not to replace her Fitbit (and Tracy’s two cents about the whole issue of performance tracking devices) got me thinking about my own Fitbit. Like Sam’s, mine was falling apart, although the app was still syncing well with the device.

Here’s the thought process I’ve gone through.

I originally got a Fitbit a few months after finishing my chemotherapy for breast cancer. (Read all about my breast cancer observations, here.) I’d read an article about how a woman increased her steps to 20K a day, and after months of lying in bed feeling ill, it sounded appealing.

I liked some of the outcomes:

The author made a great case for how easy it was to add an extra 10K steps to your day without even trying. I liked that. Good outcomes, little effort.

Hmm, I thought. I’m going to walk 20K steps a day. And I need a Fitbit to tell me whether or not I’ve done that. So I bought one.

For the first few months, I only got about 6-8K steps per day. I couldn’t wear the Fitbit on the aikido mat, because a lot of our practice involves grabbing each other’s wrists. So I didn’t worry too much about my numbers. I figured I was probably getting close to 10K steps with the aikido, and didn’t change my behaviour at all – didn’t monitor my Fitbit numbers throughout the day, to walk more if my count was low.

I was Fitbit “friends” with my sister, and later my nephew and my niece. I noticed that I was not at all competitive. Just did not care that they were walking more steps than I. One weekend they challenged me to a weekend challenge, and my nephew won with an absurd (to me at that time) 42K steps (he was working as a cart clerk at a grocery store that weekend). I didn’t care that I lost the challenge.

My highest ever day (more than 30K steps) was the day I moved to my current home. I used professional movers, but helped them by moving all my boxes and bins (literally dozens upon dozens) from one of my bedrooms to my living room. Plus I unpacked or sorted a bunch of stuff when I arrived at my new home that same day.

I know how exhausted I was after walking 30K steps (and lifting dozens of boxes). I’m not inclined to ever try and repeat (or better) that record.

A few months later, I took a part-time seasonal retail job at a local bookstore. I was on my feet for most of my 4-hour shifts, and it was cool to see my daily step counts go up, although I still trailed behind my sister and niece. (My nephew had long since abandoned his Fitbit.) Didn’t bother me one bit to still be last. I kept wearing the device mostly out of habit, hoping that my number of steps would go up, but doing nothing to change my behaviour.

The thing is, I never modified my behaviour. At all. Never checked my Fitbit during the day, and walked more if the numbers were low. I walked 2 km every morning, but if I wasn’t at the bookstore, I was pretty sedentary. I was working on a couple of my websites at the time, and doing a lot of drawing. I was also taking a lot of naps.

When the bookstore job ended, I got another retail job, this time in a fabric store. For the past eight months I’ve worked three or four 8-hour shifts per week, and usually one additional shorter, 4-hour shift. I’m on my feet the entire time, not counting breaks.

My steps went through the roof. I regularly have 20K-step days, on the days I work. I shot to the top of my leaderboard, regularly clocking 110-120K steps per week. It was nice, but again, I didn’t do anything to modify my behaviour when I wasn’t at the store. If anything, my stratospheric weekly step totals gave me permission to be incredibly lazy on my days off.

And you know what? Walking 20K steps in a day isn’t the magic bullet to a more amazing life. I didn’t necessarily feel better than I had been feeling at 6K, or 10K.

So a couple of days ago I decided to take the Fitbit off for good. I’ve never liked the way it looked. I’m on my second band (which came with the original device) because the first fell apart a few weeks ago. I often forgot to check my daily totals, or even check if the battery on the device was low.

I’m still going to wear the Fitbit at night, because I really like the sleep monitor function, and I do want to improve my sleep. But that’s it.

Have you made a decision to wear – or stop wearing – a Fitbit?


Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer, artist, maker, and proud breast cancer survivor. She loves drawing adult coloring pages and sewing. You can see some of the things she makes on her Instagram feed. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.


How martial arts have changed me. (Results may vary.) (Guest post)


I’m reflecting on my life at the moment. Maybe it’s the impending New Year, maybe it’s that a dear friend has just died, maybe it’s that a family member has recently had a life-threatening health scare, maybe it’s that the most recent chapter of my life has been one of huge changes – including my own breast cancer treatment, job loss, and ongoing career flux.

Whatever the reason, when I compare the woman I am now to the woman I used to be, I can see that “Now Me” is very different from “Then Me”.

“Then Me” was timid and afraid, always anxious, always worrying, nervous in crowds, afraid of public speaking and performing, a perfectionist who never measured up to her own impossibly high standards, and who avoided uncomfortable feelings at all costs.

“Now Me,” in contrast, is more at ease in social situations. She can get up in front of a large audience and speak without fear. She worries less – even when there’s more (like breast cancer) to worry about. She can let things go without ruminating too much. She does things that scare her, and isn’t fazed when they sometimes don’t work out.

I’ll give you a few examples.

In August 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and was strangely (to others) calm about it. Even when I first found my lump, I didn’t worry. I’d had mammograms in the past that had led to a breast biopsy, and nothing bad happened. So I decided not to worry until I knew there was something to worry about. And when I discovered there was something to worry about…  I still wasn’t worried.

In September 2016, I moved to a new community and had to switch aikido dojos. I was seriously anxious about my new sensei (teacher) – I’d heard that he was very strict and old-school. But without batting an eye, I visited the dojo, met him, and signed up to study with him. (In the past I would have procrastinated for weeks before meeting him.) He has a very harsh teaching style – he will yell at you during class if you are doing something wrong, and during most classes I do something wrong. But it all rolls right off my back, and I just keep on correcting and adjusting my techniques without flinching or getting flustered.

In November 2016, I gave a speech to more than 400 people, about how aikido helped me be a happy breast cancer patient, and I was not – NOT FOR ONE MOMENT – nervous about sharing my story. (Contrast that to my 13 years of solo singing, when I couldn’t handle my crippling performance anxiety, and finally quit singing entirely.)

Also in November 2016, I started a temporary seasonal job in a popular bookstore. I had my cashier training on the same day as the beginning of the store’s Black Friday sale. I had a lot of information to take in, in an incredibly fast-paced environment, but rather than being stressed, I actually kind of enjoyed it.

As I look back at those experiences now, I am kind of shocked. “Then Me” would have fallen apart during any one of those situations – plagued by panic (in fact I used to suffer from panic attacks during my university years), self-flagellating thoughts, and fear of unpleasant future outcomes.

To be completely honest, when I was standing onstage giving the speech in November, I suddenly wondered if I were developing the symptoms of sociopathy – I truly had no nerves, and it was very odd. (Of course I realize I’m not a sociopath – if anything, I empathize with others too much, not too little. And I do still feel fear about many risky things – just a lot less fear than I used to.)

So what’s changed? What has given me, to use a popular self-help buzzword, so much resilience?

It’s probably a complex mix of several life experiences, including 13 years of classical voice training, a year of Toastmasters membership, several years of stressful workplace leadership experience, caring for my father through his death from cancer, a lifetime of enduring chronic pain – including migraines, endometriosis, back pain, and sports injuries – and some excellent psychotherapy.

But…  and…  I think it also has a lot to do with aikido.

I recently recorded this video of myself (below), sharing the speech that I’d prepared for the November speaking event. In the weeks leading up to the speech I realized that there were some very specific lessons I’d internalized from my aikido training.


The first was a sense of agency and self-confidence that came from the regular (and frequent) practice defending myself against physical attacks. Even though the real world doesn’t have the predictability of the aikido mat, practising for the worst can be calming. And in aikido, I practised. As in, dozens of times every class, several hours per week, year-round.

The second was learning to fall, and get back up quickly after falling. To be absolutely okay with being really crappy. Embodying a beginner’s mindset. Knowing that I was going to do badly at things when I first learned them, and that even after years of study, there would still be things to correct. I watched brown belts prepare for their black belt tests and leave each practice session shaking their heads, feeling like they knew nothing. I witnessed black belts admit that they felt like beginners, and I watched them diligently work to improve their skills. I learned to admit what I didn’t know. I learned to enjoy fumbling.

The third was learning the thrill that comes from the mastery of acting proactively against a threat. Of leaping into risky situations…  and doing it successfully, enough times to give me an appetite for more.

I really like “Now Me”. She walks, grounded and quietly unflustered, through her life. She’s good in an emergency. She has no trouble committing to a course of action. She can step back and see the bird’s-eye view. She’s happier, even when there’s more to be unhappy about.

I’m not sure that it’s the aikido. But I wouldn’t give back those hours on the mat for anything.


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

body image · Guest Post

Thriving after double mastectomy for breast cancer without breast reconstruction (Guest post)


Sam recently forwarded this New York Times article to me, about the increasing numbers of women who are choosing to “live flat” after mastectomy, forgoing the reconstructive surgery that would give them artificial breasts. I’ve talked here and here about my own choice to live flat after a double mastectomy for breast cancer, and I continue to be completely comfortable – even enthusiastic – with “life after breasts.”

What boggles my mind is that the health professionals – including surgeons, oncologists and nurse practitioners – helping women through breast cancer treatment don’t see seem to realize that for some, the choice to live without breasts can be an incredibly satisfying one.

That’s certainly been my experience.

I love not having breasts anymore. I’ve never for one moment regretted my decision to have a prophylactic (preventive) mastectomy of my left breast at the same time that my right breast was removed for breast cancer. I feel sure that I would have been very, very unhappy with only one breast – or with reconstruction of one or both breasts.

In my case, I just didn’t like my breasts. They’d been quite large for most of my life, and I was uncomfortable with the way my body moved and felt with large breasts, as well as how I looked. If you’d come up to me 20 or 30 years ago and told me that I was going to get breast cancer, and asked if I wanted to have my breasts removed, I would have jumped at the chance even back then. I loved (and still love) being a woman; I just didn’t like having large breasts.

Lucky for me, I did get breast cancer, which came with a complimentary breast removal.

I love the way my body looks now. (With clothes on. Without clothes, I obviously have two huge scars across my chest, and a lot of the subcutaneous fat was removed on the right side where my cancer was, so that side of my chest is a little sunken. But I’m okay with how I look naked.)

I love how it feels to move through the world without 5 pounds of tissue hanging from my chest. Sports (running, calisthenics, martial arts) feel so much freer now. Before my surgery, I was always conscious of that weight bouncing uncomfortably up and down whenever I ran or jumped. I struggled to find sports bras I liked, and struggled even more to find sports bras that were easy to get on and off.

Not having breasts is fantastic. I wear tank tops under my shirts most of the time, just to keep my scars from being visible when I bend over in a low-cut top. The straps are also a visual clue to people that I’m a woman, which I found especially helpful during my chemo, when I was bald and looked very masculine. (I have never worn breast prosthetics, BTW – the idea of having fake breasts just doesn’t appeal to me at all.)

My mom met a woman my age at the cancer clinic one day, and this woman had had a single mastectomy when she’d wanted a double (without reconstruction). She was psychologically quite traumatized about her situation, and angry at her surgeon for refusing to remove her second breast.

I’ve also met another woman like me, who chose to have a double mastectomy and is living flat, and like me totally loving it. I wish I could counsel other women who are facing this choice, and let them know that not only can you live healthily with no breasts, but you can actually thrive – feel better than you did before.


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 Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.