It has been a little over six weeks since that lump revealed itself to me and so much learning has come forward.
Although a breast cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and I knew this before being diagnosed, (at least I thought I knew it) the absolute scariest part of this journey so far has been living in the unknown.
For over 20 years, I’ve been dealing with skin cancer diagnosis. They’d find some area on my skin, I’d go get it cut out, and voila- cancer is gone. There was never any emotional charge or reaction during any of those situations. But for some reason, learning that the cells in my breast were going whacky/ crazy sent me into a place of fear for losing my life. I immediately started reminding myself of those I’d known who survived…Sharon, Caryn, Hoda, and Samantha on “Sex and the City.” They all survived. And I did my best not to focus on those I’d heard of who did not- nobody I knew closely, but friends of friends.
I didn’t begin deep-diving researching cancer. I didn’t reach out to hear about other’s survival stories. I didn’t begin eating vegan or immerse myself in the cancer world. In the past, I probably would have done all of those things. There would’ve been a bunch of things that I thought I ‘should’ do- a list I’d create to do this the ‘right’ way. This time, I took a different path. I allowed myself my feelings whenever they come up- whether it be joy, sadness, anger or fear and I made a deal with myself to simply allow whatever I was experiencing to move through me, with grace. And in my prayers, I asked for the lessons to come forward in their own time and reveal themselves to me gently.
So when I heard a whisper to speak with Sharon about her cancer experience, I followed through. And when I wanted more information on reconstruction, I asked a friend. And when people asked how they could help, as soon as I knew what I needed, I let them. And when I wanted ice cream, I ate it!
A couple of things have already been offered as lessons:
First, this is a journey. A marathon, not a sprint. Just as I think I’m on top of everything and we’re on a path in one direction, I’m taken off the path for a few steps before finding our way back to our original goal. So with that in mind, try to manage my expectations. And try not to get too comfortable for too long because things change. That’s a very familiar theme. I’m reminded of how me, the ultimate planner, married Mike- the ultimate improvisor. He has taught me so much on how to go with the flow, especially when the unexpected occurs. I’ve also learned the “Yes, and…” response from him. It’s so much easier than resisting. Simply, yes, and….
Second, there are angels everywhere. From the very start, I’ve noticed them. Like when I walked into my OB/GYN’s office on the day they delivered the diagnosis and I was greeted by the staff, who’d been there to help me deliver my babies. We all knew why I was there, but Carla saw me and greeted me with the biggest smile! No doom and gloom, just a big smile! That made all the difference in the world and I will never forget it!
Or during my pre-op appointments and my EKG came back abnormal so I had to see a cardiologist and then be scheduled for an echocardiogram and I was desperately trying to fit it in so that I could make the next appointment with the plastic surgeon in the afternoon so we could keep my surgery date. And the receptionist, who was doing her best to juggle the many patients who’d been over-scheduled that day went out of her way to make sure I made that second appointment. I hugged her as I ran out the door to make the appointment in time.
Then I began to explore the opportunities that the diseases is offering me, but I didn’t force the learning. I allowed it to come up in its own time. And even this early in the journey, the learning has been profound.
Finding out that I would be releasing my breasts, that they would be removed to spare my life, I began to think on all that they’ve provided me with in my 51 years. Luckily I was never modest or private, so having so many people comment on my breasts wasn’t a big deal. In describing my breasts, I noticed many of the doctors using the words empty and skinny. And in my head the words filled, feeding and nurturing were swarming around.
I began to think about all the years I was overweight. All the years that I spent praying I’d be skinny, that I could get my eating disorder in check, that I would just like the way I looked. I thought of the irony that in the past 10 years I’ve become healthier than I’ve ever been and now that a little extra fat would be helpful for reconstruction, the doctor’s couldn’t find any.
And I started thinking about what a blessing it was that those beautiful breasts allowed me to enjoy a wonderful sex life. I’m reminded again of Samantha, and like her, always found my breasts to be ‘fabulous!’ No matter what size, I never found any flaws in my breasts.
But most importantly, I’m reminded how my breasts did such an amazing job nourishing my babies. Nursing was a priority for me- it was an experience that cannot be adequately expressed with words. I worked through more bouts of plugged ducts and mastitis than I can even recall. But bonding with my boys as my body provided them with the nutrition they needed to thrive in the world was simply, the best.
But now I needed to look at those words I was hearing. Empty, feeding, skinny, filled, nurturing. (It’s still hard to get past the ’skinny’ one. I’m still a fat girl in my head.) One of the lessons I’ve identified in my Spiritual Curriculum has been a pattern of over-responsibility I’m very good at taking care of others. I actually feel it’s a gift I’ve been given. But learning to balance that with nurturing myself has been a challenge. (As I would imagine it is for so many of us women.) And I began to wonder if the pattern of over-responsibility was more prevalent in men, would there be more breast cancer in men as well?
So where in my life am I feeling empty? Where do I need to feed myself? What old stories am I telling myself about what skinny means? How can I fill myself? And how can I nurture myself with greater ease?
I feel like I’m beginning to scratch the surface of these lessons and I’m open to the gentle whispers to move through this with ease and grace.
What has become overwhelmingly evident in my journey so far is that there is a wealth of opportunity for me to receive assistance, loving, and gifts. If nothing else, this journey has been a lesson in receiving. The influx of love and offers for assistance has felt, at times, very uncomfortable. And what a gift! On several occasions I find myself weeping with the words uttering out of my mouth, “It’s too much.”
I remember our May weekend at USM, where I received my learning in Spiritual Psychology. The doors opened for us to enter and we were met by a mass of people, forming a path for us to walk through, all cheering for us, sending us loving and enthusiastic praises. They called it the gauntlet of love. It was a profound experience, to be surrounded by so many people cheering for you just because…you’re you.
These past few weeks have been a continual gauntlet of love for me. From my tribe of close friends, who immediately jumped into action, to my family who is surrounding me both physically and emotionally, to friends offering to feed us and contribute to our meal train fund, and all the loving comments and support coming my way on social media. It’s just overwhelmingly amazing! There have been many times that I’ve attended memorials and left feeling that it would’ve been nice for the person who died to know how everyone felt while they were alive. Well, this experience has offered me that opportunity. And what a blessing!
So cancer, yes, you’ve entered my life to offer me something. I am open to your lessons. I ask that they continue to come in the most gentle ways. I’m happy to release you and allow grace to step in so the lessons can continue for a long, long time in this lifetime. I trust that this is all unfolding perfectly and I surrender. Thy will be done.
For the Highest Good of All Concerned!