So here it is, a year after I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery to remove it. The time seems better measured in peaks and valleys than in days and hours. Nevertheless, it’s fitting to turn back and face those days again, to see what meaning might be hiding there.
The lowest point of the year was most certainly that day in the surgeon’s office when I learned how many nodes were involved.
The highest point, fortunately, has been repeated again and again in the many connections and conversations with those who have “been there” — if not specifically with cancer, then with their own serious life circumstances. Their courage has inspired mine.
Early in this trek, a physical therapist told me that there would be gifts along the path of treatment. (Fortunately, she didn’t say cancer is a gift. I might have punched her if she had.) At the time, I imagined many brightly colored, be-ribboned boxes scattered alongside a path. Pink, yellow, blue, some with polka dots. In reality, those boxes have opened to reveal numerous gifts:
- The support of many, many family members and friends, through their presence, conversations, thoughts, prayers, suggestions, care packages, feedback on my posts — and food! I can never offer enough thanks to all of you, especially to my husband and children, whose good energy helped smooth the way.
- The compassion and assistance of the nurses, physicians and other staff at the various stages of treatment. Every day, they help their patients bear up under unbearable circumstances.
- The popsicles (of course!) and hummingbirds.
After an arduous journey, any traveler needs to look at events and try to grasp the lessons in them. For it would be a sad thing indeed to pass through a fire and not have learned. Here’s some of what I’ve realized:
- I can go through a harrowing experience and come out scarred, but intact.
- Such a harrowing experience is made bearable by the support of those more knowledgeable and experienced than I am.
- Life becomes more immediate when the weight of a serious event settles upon you.
- Even in darkness there is joy (and humor).
Except for those few scars, some residual numbness under the left arm, and a new hairstyle (oh, and that menopause stuff), I look and feel much the same as I did before the diagnosis (check the new picture on the photo page). And although it’s not about the hair, having it back means I can pass through society without external evidence of having had cancer, so I can — once again — be anonymous in a crowd. The struggle now becomes an internal one, toward acceptance and greater meaning.
And so comes the last question: Am I a better person for having passed through the fire?
I’m not sure I can answer that yet.
What I do now is face forward and walk on into this next year, just like any of you, without knowing what will come. Another trek into the dark forest? A permanent home in a sun-filled meadow? Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll tell you what I find along the way.