My journey to self-discovery took a side route unexpectedly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and then spent 13 months trying to return to health and normalcy, whatever that may be. So much of this last year plus has been a haze, but some images stand out in my mind.
The Diagnosis: I was driving my entire family, husband, B., and my girls downtown (some 35 miles from our home) after a celebration dinner for H.'s and my 9th anniversary. A big deal. I only ever made it to 7 years in each of my prior marriages, so I was feeling I had one aspect of life down - marriage to a man I enjoy, respect and love. Check. Then the phone rang. And without even a moment to pull over, my doctor said I had cancer. Wham. And that little tiny lump I felt and that everyone said was no big deal suddenly was. A Big Deal. I pulled into a parking spot, fell out of the car in shock, and collapsed onto the sidewalk. Some people walked by and didn't even break stride. Thought I was a drunk, keening on the public walkway. I could see my kids' terrified faces through the front windshield as H. picked me up murmuring soothing things. And I knew I had to pull it together, but here I was, unable to walk, shaking uncontrollably. I was young. Healthy. BRCA 1 and 2 negative. And there were my two girls. I remember thinking I had passed on a death sentence to them, and how sad that thought made me. Then I had to drive home, because H. had a morning meeting and his car was at his office downtown. So I did. And as we pulled into the driveway, cold and snowy, B. said, "This has been a great day." And for him, it was true, because we had gone to dinner, had a nice time, and his autism protected him from feeling anything about my new state. And I said, yes, it was. A Good Day.
The Bad Days: Double mastectomy, recovery, chemotherapy, reconstruction, That was my spring and summer, fall and winter. I drove myself to chemo, because who wants to be in a room with bald, sick people for 6 hours every three weeks? I know I didn't. I remember the mound of warm blankets the nurses covered me with each time because I would get so cold from the infusions. Cold that could not be easily warmed. And chemo really, really stinks. It is killing you, aaaalllmoossstt, but not quite, so you can live. H. shaved my head. I refused to wear a wig or hats, because I didn't feel the need to cover my head in shame or try to hide the illness from others' eyes. I just embraced the bald, the differences, the fact I was now changed.
The Best Things: H made me laugh. And I laughed a lot. More than I cried, for I don't cry easily. And my girls did everything they could for me, even just lying down with me in bed when I was too tired and drugged out to move or mother. My Mother. And Father. They put their lives on hold and took on my life, for almost 9 months total, doing the things I couldn't do. All the years and miles I had put into getting away from them. Ironic. I couldn't have made it without them. So the complicated relationships became simpler, in the wake of the Cancer.
Today: The year anniversay of my diagnosis just passed. I had my last and longest reconstructive surgery on our 10th anniversary. I have been cut open, taken apart, lost parts of myself. And am emerging, rearranged, but back together. I have scars, literal and figurative, from this year, along with more perspective and gratitude.
But really, isn't that what we all experience each year, if we think about it?