The Year Passes, But the Path Continues

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.

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2 Responses to “The Year Passes, But the Path Continues”

  1. Heidi Says:

    This is fresh . . At least to me:
    The moderator talked about the various cultural interpretations of illness, from the Cherokee, who believe that illness brings us lessons (not punishment) to help us reclaim a part of the soul that has been lost. . .

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Connie Walker Says:

    Julie,

    Benedetta Reece sent me you website and at just the right time. I remember how wonderful you looked at the Christmas Forest last year when we last spoke. You were encouraged and full of hope.

    In April I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I am the 8th member of my family to receive this diagnosis. I had surgery on June 1st with the hope of a pancreatic resection. Unfortunately, that was not in God’s plan. I am home recovering and have been overwhelmed with gratitude to the 41 friends and associates who have signed up to help me through “lots of helping hands”. It has been wonderful connecting and reconneting with friends and colleagues in a different way.

    I hope to return to work on an interim basis next month and to focus on the things on my bucket list. While I can’t call cancer a friend yet, I refuse to make it the enemy when there has been so much blessing on this journey.

    Blessings to you, Yoshi and your children.


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