1,461 Days Ago… I heard the four words that would put me on the most amazing, incredible, empowering journey I never would have prayed for. The call came telling me, “You have breast cancer.” I don’t remember much else from that call, other than being given the name of a surgical group. It didn’t even hit me that this piece of information meant I was most likely having a mastectomy. Nothing made sense. I had no family history of breast cancer. I was at risk for everything else, but not this – not breast cancer.
After about three days, the shock wore off. I had a big decision to make, much bigger than if I was going to have a single or double mastectomy. I had to choose the path I would take on this journey. Would it be used as an excuse to garner sympathy, to manipulate people into helping me with everything, even what I could do for myself? Or, was I going to use it as a reason – a reason to become someone I would never have otherwise become without this diagnosis. I chose the latter. The decision, an honestly easy one, was to make my breast cancer journey purposeful. It was as if my 19 years of clean time was all preparation for this battle. The question was – will I merely survive or will I thrive? The answer played out in the most loving and beautiful chain of events that could be nothing less than a gift from God, spirit, the universe, or whomever you might call the power greater than yourself.
There was a whirlwind of forms, testing, and doctors’ appointments for the five weeks leading up to my surgery and reconstruction. Gratefully, my friend Alan offered to be my advocate, attending everything and taking notes. Much of that time is a fog to me today. I blame it on the chemo I would eventually go through. Using the excuse of menopause or my youthful pot habits doesn’t evoke near the compassion that playing the chemo card does.
So there I was, 56 years old, divorced, and fighting breast cancer. What is the next logical thing to do? Find a theme song for the journey, right? In the end, I went with Happy by Pharrell, mainly for these lyrics:
Well, give me all you got, don’t hold it back (Yeah!)
Well, I should probably warn ya, I’ll be just fine (Yeah!)
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
(Because I’m happy)”
Had I chosen to simply survive this journey, I would never have found the same joy, gratitude, or incredible growth opportunities. I have chosen the path of survival in the past, and the results are not the same. Back then, I didn’t know I had a choice to do more. I didn’t know that something that seemed horrible, hurtful, and even punishing could give some of the most amazing gifts I would never have known to pray for, provided I allowed it to.
Three days before my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery I yet again did the most obvious thing I could come up with. I had a “Tata to the Tatas” party. Thirty women came over,and we had a blast. We laughed; we ate; we celebrated. Everything you’re supposed to do at a party.
There are hundreds of stories that I could tell about the journey. The amazing people I met, the intimate conversations, the initial disappointment from those that chose to walk away, and the joy in the realization that they left to make room for others that wanted to walk with me on this journey. This journey was a jigsaw puzzle. People would appear for seemingly no reason. Circumstances would change unexpectedly while my body, mind, and spirit went through huge swings. I don’t recall the moment when realized that each occurrence, each person that crossed my path, each bewildering change, were all pieces to the greater puzzle. This journey was so much greater than me. My only job was to wake up and be open to wherever I was led that day, wherever my God guided me.
With chemo, my choices narrowed dramatically because what I was physically capable of became so limited. This is when attitude played a huge role. I set the tone for each day by writing a gratitude list each morning, regardless of how I felt physically or otherwise. In Narcotics Anonymous, they talk about “an attitude of gratitude”. Yes, chemo sucked, but, thank God, I had insurance to pay for it. Yes, I was alone at times, without blood family or a romantic partner, but friends made sure I had everything I needed.
One day, as I lay in bed, too weak to even go downstairs, I realized something very important. My God was providing everything I needed to make it through cancer, regardless of how I felt. That moment of clarity reminded me that I was already okay; in fact, I was much better than okay. I was doing more than surviving. I was thriving.