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Do Over.

I had an epiphany yesterday.  As positively as I may seem when writing about this experience so far, ending my posts on the positive note, I hadn’t felt that way offline.  The entire past few weeks, I’ve been emotionally and physically tied up in knots.  My shoulders have been up to my ears and I couldn’t loosen up despite stretching and massage.  I was flailing about desperately.  It put a strain on my emotional well-being, my physical well-being, and the well-being of a most important relationship.  I have to say, I was really surprised when taking the perspective of the outside observer.  I normally lean into the dark, messy, scary parts of life.  I am not afraid of my emotions, I understand that they pass through like a storm or a cold, and know not to identify with them or let them envelope me.  I normally would consider myself pretty strong and feel like I always pull through when things come down to the wire.  I was surprised to see how difficult I was making this on myself, how much resistance I had, and quite frankly, with how little grace I was approaching this ordeal.

My Mom and I did a Native American ceremony, like we’ve done for most of the big events in my life, to help me to say goodbye to my thyroid the night before the surgery.  I did some heavy emotional and spiritual work for over two hours.  I realized that I have so many personal issues tied to this decision.  In many ways, I’d felt like a failure by not being able to heal myself and that cutting it out is equivalent to giving up/quitting/failing.  I questioned whether I’d been on the verge of healing and was I giving up right before some great success, like healing wasn’t possible sans gland.  I’ve chosen to give up the illusion of control and the most fundamental form of self sufficiency.  These are difficult things for me to give up.  Letting go of my thyroid goes against some of my very strong convictions.  Many times it’s the belief systems that are harder to let go of than anything else.  This is the work I did Monday night.

I made some progress, enough that I was able to go through with it all before the surgeon called it off.  I woke the next day feeling pretty depressed.  I wrote about it.  I did indeed go for a walk, which made me feel better, but those feelings crept back in later that evening.  I couldn’t sleep, I was feeling desperate, looking to cling to something, some kind of guarantee.  Looking back, I know that it was all in an effort to avoid, to resist, to shield myself from change, from fear, from the ache of loss.  The irony is that all of these attempts just exacerbate those feelings that I was so desperately trying to avoid.  We can not both fully live and avoid these messy bits.  They are part of life.  I was reminded of this the next morning.

I awoke Thursday knowing that I could not continue to approach the situation the way I had been, and I picked up Comfortable With Uncertainty, 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, by well known American Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron.  Among others, I read the following passage, which spoke to me and opened me to epiphany:

The Three Poisons

“In the Buddhist teachings, the messy emotional stuff is called klesha, which means poison.  There are three main poisons:  passion, aggression, and ignorance.  We could talk about these in different ways — for example, we could also call them craving, aversion, and couldn’t care less.  Addictions of all kinds come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting — feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution.  Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred, and negativity of all kinds, as well as garden-variety irritation.  And ignorance?  Nowadays, it’s usually called denial.

The three poisons are always trapping you in one way or another, imprisoning you and making your world really small.  When you feel craving, you could be sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but all you can see is this piece of chocolate cake that you’re craving.  With aversion, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and all you can hear is the angry words you said to someone ten years ago.  With ignorance, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over your head.  Each of the three poisons has the power to capture you so completely that you don’t even perceive what’s in front of you.

The pith instruction is, whatever you do, don’t try to make the poisons go away.  When you’re trying to make them go away, you’re losing your wealth along with your neurosis.  The irony is that what we most want to avoid in our lives is crucial to awakening bodhichitta.  These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion.  Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots far more often than we’ll want to stay.  That’s why self-compassion and courage are vital.  Without loving-kindness, staying with pain is just warfare.”

That was the one that blew it wide open for me.  I’ll spare you a line by line analysis as to how this resonated with me, but the short story is; the reason I’ve been having such difficulty is because I’ve been using every trick in my book, every old pattern from childhood to try to avoid these poisons as if they’d kill me.  Hilariously enough, as most of the lessons in my life tend to be, it is all due to a decision I made.  Oh, life, you’re such a prankster!  After reading several more passages on the heels of this one, I realized that I can simply decide to let go, let that stuff in, breathe, and enjoy the life I have rather than be consumed by avoiding.  I did, and instantly my body loosened up, my mind freed up, I felt like I got my life back, like I could be me again.  This surgery being delayed gave me a chance to do it over again with some dignity and grace.  I found something bigger to lean on, something that won’t crumble under the weight of me and something that creates space and light within me.  I just need to remind myself if the vices start to tighten again.

 

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Complications of a delayed surgery.

Woke up this morning feeling pretty depressed.  I haven’t had a good run or bit of exercise since last Wednesday.  Between this cold and a pollen count of over 9,000 (extremely high considered to be >500) the one gentle walk I’ve taken to try and get my system moving probably swept more junk into my lungs than it expelled out.

I also woke up from a dream in which my boyfriend angrily yelled at me to not be frustrated (which, literally, does not happen in real life) and thinking about my work situation.  I’ve been saving money for the last few months because I knew I’d have this time off, so it’s not like I won’t be able to pay my bills, it’s just that it looks like I’m not going to be working for the better part of a month.  Thus using twice as much of my savings as I originally thought I’d need, thanks to this glorious f*@%ing cold that already kept me from working last Saturday.  Once again, I’m going to have to overlook the negative aspect (the financial), appreciate that my health is the priority, and look at the positive: some unexpected time off while I’m up and about.  Time with my Mom, who I so seldom get to see.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even get to go to the cabin in the woods for those two nights next week if no one asks me to work for them.

So, I sit here drinking some reheated coffee that is too sweet and too old, but it is good.  I was without it for a few days and with the blood supply being cut off to my thyroid, it’s a little piece of heaven right now.  I think what the body and mind need today is a good, long walk.  Maybe I can even try a run in a few days after it (hopefully) rains and my lungs are clear.  Today though, a drive out to the park for a good, long walk in the woods sounds like it should lift this cloud that surrounds me.

More good news…  the swelling at the first I.V. site from yesterday where the nurse exploded my vein is much better.  When I took the bandages off last night, I had expected bruising, but I also had some serious swelling which I found surprising.  It is now only slightly puffy, and I can hang my arm normally by my side without any pain.  I still have some purple writing below my neck, but considering what’s come so far and what’s to come soon, who gives a flying rat?  You could also surmise this to be my attitude if you’d seen my hair, face, and clothing through the rest of the day yesterday and this morning.  Sometimes other things are more important.  and I’m okay flopping about for a day or two like a ragamuffin.

Operation cloud raise today will consist of coffee (which I’m currently placing in action), a good 5 mile walk in the sunshine, a shower, a load of laundry, and a few chapters of Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me.  Then if that gets it halfway up, maybe making a batch of soap would finish it off.  Wish me luck, ’cause this cloud is thick as the morning fog in San Francisco Bay.

 

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T minus 12 hours…

I’m starting to get butterflies.  I haven’t been able to focus much on the upcoming surgery because I was walloped with a nasty cold late Friday night.  I was basically bedridden all of Saturday; managed to take a shower without passing out on Sunday; had my friend/neighbor to drive me to the airport to pick up my mom, as I did not feel it was safe for me to be driving; but started to do better once I was able to eat some food.  Today I am finally getting stronger and feeling better.  I do have a horrendous cough and it is a concern for me that the anesthesiologist may opt to delay surgery.

At this point, it’s been such a long, drawn out, emotional process that I just want to get it over with already.  I feel like I’m at the end of a very long, very high diving board and as I take my first bounce, they might tell me to climb down and come back another day.  I had an unfortunate experience with a diving board in seventh grade, so I’d rather just cannonball off the side.  Even if it’s not as graceful, at least I’ve taken the leap and I’m in the water.   I must admit, there is, and will probably always be, a part of me that believes that this organ belongs in my body and would do anything to avoid having it cut from my neck.  Delaying my decision, however, is not the answer.  It may be what happens due solely to safety reasons, but it will not be my call.

I spoke with a nurse from general surgery and she said I could take an expectorant, so I went straight to cvs and grabbed some to give my lungs every chance to be as clear as possible by tomorrow morning.  Last night I hovered over a bowl of steaming eucalyptus water – being a soap-maker comes in handy more often than you’d think.  That seemed to have helped based on the way I felt this morning.

When I laugh though….   I sound like I’ve spent thirty years suckin’ on the butt end of a Marlboro Red.  *shudder*  The nurse did say that it’s common to reschedule surgery when the patient has been sick, but she also gave me the option to reschedule or move forward based on how bad I feel.  I actually felt pretty good about halfway through today.  I get short of breath easily, but I’m rapidly gaining strength.  I feel like this is my time to be strong.  This is my time to dig deep and use the power of my body’s central operating system – my brain – and remember how robust my life force is when I think positively.  I remember how relatively easily I made it through my tonsillectomy 13 years ago.  I’ve made it through countless difficult physical situations simply by breathing, letting go, and understanding that it won’t last forever and all I have to do is make it through one moment at a time until I’m thriving.  Someone please remind me of this when I need it.

 

 
 

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Without fear, there can be no courage.

I had my pre-op appointment yesterday morning at 7 am. It was not a big deal, really. Just a bunch of different people asking me the same questions over and over, taking some blood work, giving an EKG, and some poking and prodding. As they were describing how the day of surgery would go, I got that cotton mouth feeling that I’ve only ever gotten a couple of times in my whole life due to sheer panic.

Given that I was in considerable pain the night before, I ended up with maybe an hour, possibly two, of sleep. On top of that, I’ve been under so much stress, riddled with fear and anxiety, that I wasn’t really as able to cope with things as well as I maybe should have been. One of the nurses who came in to ask me a bunch of questions, out of nowhere, offered up this statement.

“The thyroid gets blamed for so many things. I’m overweight, it must be my thyroid.”

…with the obvious sarcasm that no, if you’re overweight, it’s because you’re a lazy slob who eats doughnuts and pizza for breakfast…   So I couldn’t help but say to her (refined for the purpose of this blog):

“The body is so complicated that you never really can be sure, but as a person who’s lived in this body through the ups and downs of six years of unstable thyroid levels, I can tell you that it does indeed affect your weight.  When I came out of remission and went on tapazole again, it was like I got belly fat overnight.  It was the craziest thing.”

To which she said, dismissively, “yes, mhmm…” and went on about her business.  I squelched the urge to shout

“You know what lady…  do YOU have thyroid disease?  Have YOU ever lived through the highs and lows of thyroid levels?  Just because my levels look good to you doesn’t mean that you know what is normal for me.  A good medical professional listens to their patient, doesn’t just dismiss their input as irrelevant because the books you read are the end all and be all of thyroid fact.  There is a lot of controversy over the “normal” range being far too wide here in the U.S. and you don’t know shit about how in tune I am with my body or how much I’ve educated myself about my disease, so you can take your “yeah, mmhhmmm” attitude and shove it back to 1982, when I thought doctors – or in your case nurse’s – knew everything and there was no reason to question or participate in my own medical care.  If weight isn’t affected by thyroid, then why the shit is it on every list of symptoms to look for regarding thyroid disease?  Just Feck Off!”

This outrage was let loose in the car ride home in the form of a rant, which did not sit well with my company….   I just don’t know what to do with that rage, and if I let it fester, I’m bound to have a worse experience where I’m already having trouble focusing away from the fear.  I have read about and experienced a lot of this type of dismissal from medical professionals when seeking help and participating in my own treatment plan, and I refuse to believe that those people can provide better treatment than someone who listens to what I tell them is happening in my body.  I am not the majority who would rather bury their head in the sand and take a magic pill everyday.

Doctors simplify things for their patients, with good reason, but things are so complex and often times patients are not even made aware of treatment options other than the one the doctor prefers.  I happen to prefer to be in the know, even if it is a hundred times scarier.  At least I can make the decision that feels right to me and I will not be a victim of someone else’s priorities (i.e. pharmaceutical industry influence, insurance coverage, etc.).  I am fortunate that I found an endocrinologist who has been patient with me and allowed me to direct the course of my treatment because after some time, she realized I was a responsible patient.  I had to prove that to her, I understand that, but she also didn’t write me off immediately just because I didn’t go to school to be a doctor.

All of this is just a symptom of the real fear, though.  I feel like I’m under pressure to beat the clock.  I usually take it easy on myself when it comes to personal growth.  I realize that you can not force awareness or growth in yourself just as you can not force a flower to blossom.  That being said, I feel that if I don’t overcome this fear before my surgery next Tuesday, that all will go horribly wrong.  I desperately need to find peace before going under the knife, but if the last several days are any indication, that may not happen.  Perhaps the answer is to allow the fear to be there and be okay with it.  After all, courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to take action despite one’s fears.  There can be no courage without fear.  While I’m at it, here are some quotes I found demonstrating that feeling fear is part of having courage.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.  ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

Courage can’t see around corners, but goes around them anyway.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Fear and courage are brothers.  ~Proverb

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.  ~C.S. Lewis

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.  ~Raymond Lindquist

To live with fear and not be afraid is the final test of maturity.  ~Edward Weeks  (I’m still afraid, mind you.)

Courage is knowing what not to fear.  ~Plato

Optimism is the foundation of courage.  ~Nicholas Murray Butler

Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.  ~John Wayne

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.  ~Arthur Koestler

Courage is a kind of salvation.  ~Plato

You can’t test courage cautiously.  ~Anne Dillard

I believe that courage is the sum of strength and wisdom.  You take away wisdom from the equation – courage may turn to rage.  ~Dodinsky

Thanks to http://www.quotegarden.com – from where I stole these quotes.

 

 
 

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Amalgam

This process so far has been surprising me left and right.  I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve been receiving through different avenues over the last few weeks.  Texts, emails, blog comments, phone calls, even hand written letters!  It’s given me a feeling like people are rallying around me, supporting me through this.  The surprising part is how alone I have begun to feel in all of this considering the massive support I’ve been receiving.

Wednesday, the fear started to set in.  I’ve been working on my self talk to get me through it and though I’m not where I want to be, I have faith that when the shart hits the fan, I’ll pull through like I always do.  It’s taking some serious, conscious effort to keep talking to myself and keep steering my focus.  Yesterday I started on Lugol’s solution – basically straight iodine, like the kind you’d use to disinfect topically – three drops, three times a day.  This is the stuff they give after radioactive fallout to protect the thyroid.  It’s also used, in my case, to prepare the thyroid for surgery.  It decreases the vascularity of the thyroid so that there is less bleeding during surgery.  It also blocks the thyroid from making thyroid hormone, so I figured I could expect to feel somewhat hypo, though I’m not sure if I’d feel it in a matter of ten days.

I started on it yesterday and the stomach upset was not too bad, but all of the sudden, while brushing my teeth, I had extreme sensitivity in several teeth.  One in particular.  A few years ago, my dentist noticed a dark spot on an x-ray at the base of one of my bottom front teeth.  She thought it indicated a dead or dying tooth and that I would need a root canal even after tapping and ice confirmed that the tooth was very much alive.  Fortunately, as I sat in the oral surgeon’s chair, he confirmed the viability of the tooth and sent me home saying I didn’t need one.  It must just be an anomaly and to keep an eye on it.  Well….  that’s the one that’s the most sensitive.  Being that one of the more worrying side effects is tooth/gum pain, I’m attributing this one to the Lugol’s.

The other side effects I’ve noticed so far are headaches at the base of my skull; metallic taste in my mouth; and mild stomach irritation.  I’m not prone to headaches, so when I got one shortly after taking my second dose last night at work, I was none too thrilled, though that wasn’t the worst effect.  For some reason I felt hyper symptoms within a short period after my second dose.  My hands were visibly shaky, my heart and respiratory rate went up, anxiety reared its ugly head and all I could do was keep working, breathing, pretend none of this was going on while presenting my happy face to the customers.  Fortunately it passed, the night ended, and now I have a day off.  It was such a surreal moment at one point.  I looked around, realizing that everyone was in their usual work pattern, probably feeling like it’s just another stressful night, nothing seems different.  To look at me, you’d probably think the same of me, unless you know me well.  No one had a clue what was happening behind the smile.  I felt so alone, strong, fragile, sad, powerful, scared, and vulnerable, all at the same time.

This is the part where the people who love me want to do everything they can to help, but they just can’t ease or maybe understand certain burdens. This part I have to do alone and be alone in my body as it endures this process.  As I write this, 40 minutes after taking my first dose, I can feel the back of my skull starting to ache.  I also began the lady pains something fierce yesterday, a uterine migraine, if you will.  So my whole lower abdominal region hurt; my lower back ached; my knees have been particularly painful lately, just squatting down – which I do a lot of in my job; the base of my skull felt tight and sharp and achy; my teeth hurt when I brush them; my fear comes in waves; and on top of that, my ability to care for myself seems to have halted.  I’ve been better.

Last week, I was having these cleaning urges.  I kept feeling like cleaning, organizing, purging useless clutter.  It felt like a really good sign of my internal status.  I cleaned out two closets, reorganized half of my soap room, cleaned out under the bed (half the stuff my cat put there), kept my bedroom, living room, kitchen quite free of daily clutter…  Then, on Wednesday, the fear struck and that all stopped.  My clothing from the last couple of days is strewn about the bedroom, my bed is left unmade, my sink is full of dishes.  It’s not disgusting yet, but if I don’t do something today, I’m going to feel pretty awful.  My pre-op appointment is at 7 a.m. tomorrow and I’d like to wake up to a clean home before that.

So, as part of my conscious effort to stay positive and focused.  As I end this post, I shall proceed immediately to the kitchen, where I will do my dishes, and from there, the clothing in the bedroom shall be put in its proper place and I shall clear my dining table of the debris its collected over the last few days.  You see?  I still have fear, I still feel alone, I still feel frozen and overwhelmed, but only until I say “enough already” and do something about it.  I’m still scared but I have to do only what I can do and then “let go all holds” and trust.

 
 

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F.E.A.R.

Fear is a powerful force.  It has its place, but often times if you give it an inch, it takes a 26.2 miles.  Fear, lately, has been an unwelcome house guest who is quickly overstaying her welcome and barging into my life at the most inappropriate moments.  She rears her head in the form of stress dreams; sudden, acute anxiety; digestive discomfort; emotional outbursts; crying over nothing.  Par example: Last Sunday I decided I hadn’t veged out in front of the tv in months, so I decided to sit back, drink my coffee and enjoy some mindless drivel.  I ended up flipping back and forth between Roadhouse (I don’t have cable) and one of the Big Mama movies where there’s a Mrs. Doubtfire scenario happening.  The farcical Big Mama and the kids become attached to each other and the goodbye at the end of the movie had my shedding a tear.  Oh Brooooother

Recently I received an email from my boyfriend’s brother who reminded me of something I’d heard somewhere before.  Fear can be put into perspective via acronym:

False Evidence Appearing Real or maybe False Expectations Appearing Real

Either way, I’ve been buggin’ out!  Lately, I can’t stop thinking about waking up during surgery.  Then, last night, I did the worst thing someone can do.  I googled it.  I found out it’s more common than I even thought.  I read people’s accounts of it happening to them, which somehow led to reading people’s horror stories of life after a Total Thyroidectomy.  I found myself on the very same page I remember reading that froze me to inaction last year when I thought I was ready for surgery.  I read about people gaining 25, 35, 75, 100 pounds after having their thyroid removed and claiming to have “normal” blood levels.

I could feel the fear spreading through my body.  There was actually a stream of tingling energy traveling through my body, animating particles and molecules and atoms, probably leading to inflammation or more belly fat or an aneurism or something…   See how it spirals?

All I could do was breathe.  I sent my brother an email and fortunately Anto called just in time to talk me down so I could go to bed.  I awoke feeling calm, but the fear definitely comes in waves.  I don’t want to plant an idea in my mind, as I know how powerful the mind can be.  This is very important to me and though I’ve been joking about it with people, I’m serious about having the right thoughts before surgery.

Here are the steps I’ve taken to correct this:

I went back and read the helpful emails of people’s positive experiences from people who have taken the initiative to be educated advocates for their own health.  I consider myself to be one and feel like that will contribute tremendously to a positive outcome.  One woman did not consider any of these fearful possibilities that I’ve read about as options for herself and I would like to get in alignment with that type of thinking.  Reading her words helps.

I have ordered books from my library about healing (spiritual/energy/etc.), prayer, conquering fear, and humor i.e. Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me.  Granted, I won’t be able to read them all before the surgery, but I’m surrounding myself with them before and after to keep my mind aimed towards the right direction or distracted by someone else’s comically written account of his own set of woes.  Hopefully from there my brain can pick up momentum and create these thoughts on its own.  Like giving myself constant, effective pep talks.

What do you do to counteract the fear that grips you when you have made a big decision or have to go through something in life that you’d rather not?  What skills have you acquired?  How do you cope?  What tools do you use to get yourself in the right frame of mind?  I’d love to hear your stories and your experiences.  I encourage you to share your own in a comment.

Thanks for “listening” …and sharing.

 

 

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Emotional verbosity despite tracheal compression. facetious interlude. material reward.

I have to admit, I’ve felt very uninspired to write a new post regarding the details of my two hour surgery consult last Monday.  I started it, but mostly I’ve preferred to forget about it.  It is a draft that I will pick back up in order to provide those who are interested with a detailed account of my two hour surgery consult.  But for now, emotional rhetoric….

The last couple of days, I’ve been feeling strangled by this lump in my throat.  Not sure if it’s psychosomatic as my surgery approaches, but it’s not the first time I’ve felt this.  Usually, it’s only noticeable when I hug Anto with my chin above his shoulder; when I do chest opening stretches; and when I sleep on my stomach, that I can feel its constricting presence against my trachea.  Yesterday and today, its suffocating grip has been there at every moment of the day, leaving me in a panic to get it out of my body.  Perhaps my subconscious reinforcing the validity of my decision.

Yesterday, multiple times, I had to consciously fight off anxiety that started to creep in.  It felt like generalized anxiety in that I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I just felt easy.  Then, presented with physical symptom (dizziness, light headed/faint feeling, arrhythmia, vision changes), the same thoughts rush to my head:

Is this it?  Is this what it feels like as my thyroid finally decides to abandon ship and dumps all its excess baggage into my bloodstream?  Is this the beginning of a thyroid storm?  Will I be on my way to the hospital soon?  Will I be able to think clearly enough to call for help?

I’m looking forward to tossing that recurring worry aside as I move on with my life.  I’m looking forward to relieving myself of that stifling lump in my throat at all times.  I’m looking forward to joining the living.  I’ve spent too much time feeling deformed, thus unworthy; filled with shame and needing to hide.  Living this way has eroded my quality of life and as I’ve said before, perhaps if I were a more evolved person, it would not affect me in this way and I would forge ahead, unaffected by my perception of what others think of me.  That quest continues, maybe for the rest of this lifetime, but I’m not willing to give up any more of my life and fleeting youth to shame and anxiety, and I’m going to have to keep trying to transcend the ego without my thyroid.

*facetious interlude*

Though I don’t necessarily believe in equating objects with accomplishment, I do have one small material reward that I’m awaiting regarding this surgery.  There is a necklace that I bought just before my initial diagnosis roughly six years ago and have never since been able to enjoy.  That is, unless coveting it hanging in the corner of my bathroom every day for the last six years counts as such.  It’s handmade by one of my favorite local jewelry artisans, Christina from Vivid Boutique in Decatur.  It’s blue topaz – my birthstone – and it’s not that it was expensive, it’s just absolutely beautiful and my neck was, and will be again, so slender that it’s fairly small and it fits too tightly now, never mind that I avoid drawing any attention to my neck.  As an added bonus, it might also lay nicely over the scar.

 
 

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