shrinkage on prosthesis
Cancer Survivor

Stuck in the Body Shop

By on March 6, 2017

It’s March, and spring is here – a time for all living creatures to awaken from their winter slumber and begin the laborious task of growth. Renewal. A fresh start.

We humans are no different. Our bodies are well oiled machines. Just have a limb cut off and you will become acutely aware of the amazing biomechanics of our bodies. But when we push our bodies too hard, ask for too much, and send them out of balance, they inevitably find a way to right the ship. We get sick, we falter, we slowdown. So it’s essential that we allow our bodies – and our minds – the time to heal from all that we ask them to do.

For those of us who find rest and downtime nearly impossible, who move at a breakneck pace and balk at taking time off from anything, making time for recovery can be damn near impossible. I call us hummingbirds. This personality trait works in my favor when trying to survive cancer, amputations, and the subsequent health challenges they produce. But when I’m struggling with my mobility and unable to fulfill my hummingbird-like destiny with my body, I tend to take flight with my mind. This can be a great thing, but it can also be a curse if I’m not mindful of the destination and the journey that my brain is taking.

Last September, it was established that, due to my tumor, I had suffered some serious anatomical changes that caused marked scoliosis in my spine. Essentially, my tumor is located in the same spot as the head of my femur bone, where it sits in my hip socket. My tumor creates an unwelcome shim, forcing my femur bone to angle forward and inward and causing me to walk pigeon-toed, but only on one side.

Dana Pounds on ladder

This hummingbird cannot sit still.

Over time, my pelvic girdle tilted up on my cancer side and caused a major bend in my lower spine. You could see the huge “S” curve on my scans and Jim and I used to laugh about how crooked I was. Until it really started to hurt. And I mean crippling hurt. Like, keeping me from moving hurt, and that is the type of pain that a hummingbird like me cannot stand. So, I was finally forced to address it. I could not longer ignore the pain and just keep hoping it was due to wearing a prosthesis or having my leg amputated.

In my medical history, the type of pain I was experiencing has only meant one thing: IT is back. And this time, it is in your back, I thought. Or maybe your liver. Or maybe your kidneys because that can make your back hurt too. Maybe my pancreas because my mom died from that and she had lower back pain. That must be it, I thought, the pain is from my cancer metastasizing and now I have it in my pancreas and I am out of time. Game Over. And I am not finished.

Damn, this hummingbird just flew off that branch at the first sign of trouble. That’s one of our undeniable, genetic behaviors – flight or fight. When we feel threatened, our survival instincts kick in and we either fly away or fight to survive. Unfortunately, for those of us who have suffered severe trauma, our flight or fight mechanisms are permanently turned on. Even little things, like forgetting to lock the door, can turn into monumental crises when we feel like our life is at risk. And the big things – like a real threat of cancer in your who knows where… Well, my mind was gone.

Except this time, I slowed down enough to let a co-pilot join my crazed, PTSD mind on the journey. Instead of sitting in the passenger seat and letting chaos and fear drive me, my courageous self took over. I got into the captain’s seat and took command of the hummingbird flight and started to ask some questions: What if your tumor shrank again – like enormously? What if it shrank so much that it’s as if the shim, which has jacked up your back and pelvis therefore limiting your mobility, has literally been whipped out from your pelvic girdle? What if your back is hurting because it is actually straight again and it’s literally stretching its wings on either side? What if your body is actually getting back in alignment and doing exactly what you have been training it to do? What if this is progress and not more cancer?

I wish we all could have been a fly on the wall in that hummingbird flight cockpit. My chaotic PTSD mind and my strong self wrestled over control of that flight the entire time.

So last week, I celebrated my forty-fourth birthday with a MRI of my back and pelvis. I laid in the tube for two hours in excruciating pain, and I’m proud to say that I only let one tear slip out. At one moment when my courageous self took a break, my wild, PTSD mindlessness took hold of the helm. But it was only for a fleeting moment, and I was able to get us back on track. With each loud bang of the MRI, I told myself, I was one bang closer to finding out that I’m just fine. Oh, and I am totally going to run that marathon. That is what I chanted the entire two hours.

One good thing about having your cancer come back often is that you don’t have to wait too long to have your scans read. Everyone is always on edge; there’s an entire flock of hummingbirds ready to take flight or fight if need be. You can feel the energy ramp up as you wait for the news from the MRI.

And then the phone rings.

The number is your doctor’s office and you wonder, Is this it little hummingbird? Is this the call when they tell you your time is up? Is this the last minute of freedom, little bird, before they clip your wings?

And then you answer. You can barely breathe while they are talking. Jim is staring at me for some kind of reaction. And then the tears begin.

Fly little hummingbird… but not quite yet.

In the video above, you can see the arch in my back responding in pain, but this little hummingbird just keeps flying!

As it turns out, I am just fine. I’m more than fine. That was the most “boring” MRI the tech has ever read. Of course, they weren’t looking at my current tumor, just for mets (that’s shorthand for metastatic lesions) in my back and other organs. But they got nothing. I am boring!

Actually, I have three herniated discs. My L2, L3, and L4 vertebrae are doing exactly what I prayed they would be – straightening out and stretching their wings to get ready for the flight of their lifetime – my marathon. I am still in major pain and not that mobile, but we are celebrating big time here. And yes, I realize that I’m probably one of the only people that is happy to have seen bulging discs on an MRI.

I’m exhausted from that journey, and going through yet another life or death experience. It was traumatizing. It was emotional. We are still recovering. But I cannot rest, and that’s the trouble with being a hummingbird. I have to find a way to rest and recuperate because I have an even bigger journey ahead. It’s already time to for my return to the nest of the National Institutes of Health to get my quarterly scans.

Next week, I’ll be sitting in the tube again, only this time it will be to find out the status of my tumor. Prior to the back-scare MRI, I was not sure what to expect. I was wondering if my back was hurting due to more cancer, and I’d begun to convince myself that everything was growing again. Thankfully, my birthday gift was exactly what I had hoped for – the peace of mind that everything is okay.

Dana Punds, Justine, and Dan

An amazing team builds me up! Dan, in the middle, is my prosthetist and Justine, on the right, is one of my heroes.

Actually, it’s more than okay. I’ll be heading back to Florida after my visit to Washington, D.C. to have another new leg made. Even though I was just there two months ago, my new leg is already too big and things need to be realigned. (See the image at top; The socket on the left is from September 2016; the socket I’m wearing is January 2017!) Now, we know why.

So this little hummingbird is offloading the additional baggage and getting ready to take flight. And not on some crazed, mindlessness whirlwind. This hummingbird is assembling herself for a 26.2 mile journey. I firmly believe we will see major shrinkage in my next scan on March 13 (my lucky number!).

We have a choice in the direction of our journeys, and so we must be acutely aware of the flight patterns we take. If we move too fast, we risk seeing our mistakes only in hindsight, to the detriment of our bodies and our minds. So make the time to rest, recuperate, and be the co-pilot of your own mind. And choose wisely, my fellow hummingbirds, because we truly manifest our own destiny.