From my perch in my bed, I see the crows leaving Burnaby for their morning commute to Vancouver, their black silhouettes against the white-tipped trees. I’m flat on my back on bed rest, trying to reconcile a mean post-op complication from my lymph node removal. This reminds me of another breast experience – when I was breastfeeding my babies, cosy and set up with a comfort station of newspapers, books and my phone within arm’s reach. But it has been 13 years since I last nursed a baby and now I’m just home here alone.
This has been an exercise in waiting. Waiting for diagnostic tests waiting for results, waiting for diagnosis, waiting for referrals, waiting for appointments, waiting for surgery, waiting in waiting rooms, waiting to heal, waiting for surgery results. Those results come Wednesday and then there will be more waiting: For more surgery? For chemo? For radiation? I don’t know. Along with the waiting, there’s uncertainty too. I’ve cancelled travel and all my speaking engagements and it feels like I have nothing to look forward to, except for being on the other side of this. (Although I did read this lovely post from Mayo Clinic this morning, called Taking Time for Legos. I promise to take time for legos too).
I’ve poked my head out to scour for stories. I received generously long phone calls from two women friends who had been through breast cancer treatment many years ago, and one dear old friend who finished another kind of cancer treatment in December. I carefully listen to all these precious tales.
I met with my husband’s colleague for coffee last week. She just finished treatment last spring. She gives me a beautiful necklace – a little healing hand on a string. “I wore it when I was going through the shit,” she says, “I hope it gives you the extra boost it gave me.” I am so touched by this gesture from a kind stranger that happy tears (for a change) spill from my eyes. We are now connected.
From these women, I get no platitudes of ‘you will be fine’. This is because you are not guaranteed a pain-free life. Sometimes life is very much not fine. I know that to be true especially if I’m put on the chemo track. I hope hard that I just need radiation, but there are so many extra factors in play that I just don’t know. I will have to wait for this answer too.
There were little nuggets of wisdom in these conversations. I look at the notes I scribbled down:
Think – this is shitty, but then think of a positive.
Feeling the way you are feeling is okay.
Take all the help you can get.
You are in charge of your own shit.
This is a yet a blip in your life.
Hang in there.
A common theme was: I just rolled up my sleeves and did what I had to do. And I know that I will do that too.
Ps: Ronna Benjamin has written a great essay called 8 Things Every Breast Cancer Patient Should Know. It applies not just to breast cancer, but to everybody going through ‘stuff’ too…