My life beyond the cancer seas
Here is a woman. As the light shines in through the kitchen window she wipes away the tears, her head is bowed, her arms across her middle. She holds herself thus for a few minutes, letting the tears come, watching them drop into the sink, feeling them rolling down her cheek. She purses her lips and breathes out, finally raising her head to look out of the window. Out into the garden where the long tailed tits gather around the bird feeder, the frost still crisp on the grass in spite of the golden sun shining through the bare winter branches. She goes to the door and steps outside to feel the brace of cold upon her skin. And to breathe. And to move. Nature calms.
Later she picks up her phone and looks at the WhatsApp feed for her friends birthday. A private all women spa evening set for tonight. The last message reads about the glory of being able to be in ones birthday suit with other sisters, this is the message that sucker punched her insides. She had not for one second thought about the fact most of the other women there would be naked. Of course they would be naked. But the innocent playful message had slapped into her vulnerability, the place that resided over her mastectomy scar.
She breathed in and composed a gentle response about her intention to wear a bathing suit, which quickly received a number of heart emojis. They all knew, how could anyone in her world not know. She had blogged about her whole breast cancer story. Everyone knew. She had no issue with her body. She loved her new shape, her pirate sassiness and asymmetrical curves. She was the one-breasted queen of her world. No, the issue was not to do with her feelings around the sacrifice of her breast. The issue was to do with how others would respond to the physical reality of that laid bare before them in a place like the spa.
Its such a big reveal and with it there are inevitable questions or avoidance of questions. The subtle sidelong glances that she knows she gave to other women with such scars so many lifetimes before her foray into this territory. But it is a story she tells herself. Or rather just a part of the story, not yet the whole story. The sense of that whole story would unfold later in the same evening. When the birthday girl took her aside to check in about the messages and how she was feeling being there. When she said she had cried and then realised it was ok to be there in a costume. When after talking more she spoke of her need to honour the coming out of her new body. When she talked to the other sisters about wanting to have a spa moment soon to do just this. When her scared form could begin to have an unfolding relationship with her world. When she could allow herself to be seen and not just heard.
Though this is my story, it could so easily be translatable to us all. The feelings are the same though the context may be different. We all feel vulnerable and laid bare to the sometimes gauche affairs of the world. Where does it happen for you? Are you aware of those triggers or like me, do they sometimes come out of nowhere to bring you to your knees? How well are you resourced? Do you have a tool bag to bring yourself back to a point of balance? In all honesty there are some moments that I fail to find my tool bag. Moments when I have lost all sense and the story I tell myself becomes the presiding one. Where there is little room for nuance or the point of view of the other.
Oh to be human.
However, It does take me less time to regain balance and to make a plan of action these days.
I am in the midst of scans again. The yearly reckoning that comes with a diagnosis such as mine. I have planned well and have dear friends taking me. Yes, I’m sure many of you could do it alone, but I question whether the softer sides of you need to be held more gently in harsh times. This is what I mean about making plans of action. It is in our ability to respond to upcoming challenges, or how we language out of present crisis that makes the difference. Or so I would suggest.
Am I a success story? In as much as I am alive 2 years on from diagnosis, yes. That I can navigate tricky life challenges with a reasonable amount of calm and decorum, yes. That I want to support others to navigate their own stories well, yes.
Success as seen by society standards is a harder task master. May I humbly suggest you spend sometime rewriting your idea of success. Write it in a way that it shows how well you are already navigating life.
Because you are.
I see you.