When I’m 64.
When I am 64, I won’t be losing my hair.
At least I don’t think I will.
Last month I received a diagnosis of breast cancer for the second time. My first diagnosis and treatment was 10 years ago.
This month I turned 64. I was really looking forward to celebrating. Mike retired just before my birthday. We planned on a road trip, exploring the Pacific Coast Highway. We have been practicing being retired for a while. We have a whole list of activities, travel, service, and adventure. Boredom is not on it.
Cancer was not on it either.
I have a card with the phrase “While I was busy, life happened”.
All my plans to prepare for and have adventures in retirement were set aside, and replaced with appointments with various surgeons and specialists, MRI and CT scans, blood work, genetic panels, videos of medical teams discussing options, searching through information resources, talking with others who shared their experiences.
I continue to lead suicide prevention training online, but was grateful when a friend stepped in to lead one in my place in the midst of all this.
I had thought that on my 64th birthday I would be asking Mike, in a joking way, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me?” But, by then, we knew the determined course of treatment would involve a double mastectomy surgery, followed by several reconstruction surgeries throughout the coming year. We weren’t joking anymore about the need for Mike to be very involved in helping me recover.
I really struggled after receiving the diagnosis. I felt like a target, a victim. Cancer had found me again. All the impact, the permanent side effects of the last treatment, the scars, all of it overwhelmed me. It was hard for me to move, to pull myself out of a fetal position. I had to talk myself into sticking with previously made plans to gather with some dear friends in Colorado the week after diagnosis.
They saved me.
They let me share my pain, my burden, my fear. I told them about feeling that I had no control, and that I felt like I was a victim that was going to be carved apart, and there was nothing I could do.
They didn’t tell me to feel differently.
They listened. And listened some more.
Then they thanked me for being someone who helped people see their own creative power. Someone who shared ways we could always look for what could be deconstructed, where we could clear away what could no longer work, and in that space, create new life and new worlds.
They called me back to myself.
I chose to be the creator of my life again.
It is still hard. I really hate cancer. This will be a long, difficult process with many unknowns and possibilities of risky complications.
I hate the thought of losing my breasts. They are an essential part of so many aspects of my life, past, present and future. Each day I go through a whole range of thought and emotion about wanting to keep this part of my body, and realizing that it is no longer safe for me to do so. It is a difficult and painful process, emotionally and physically, to deconstruct this part of my body and life.
And, thanks to incredible medical science and technology, tissue from other parts of my body can be used to reconstruct breasts. Not only tissue, but vessels and nerves will be transplanted and grafted.
It is all there within me.
I give regular presentations about symbolism, ascension journey rituals, learning vicariously from scripture and literature and theater. This central story of the journey that is shared by so many cultures is one of seeing your paradigm, feeling led to something more, then taking the step to leave, deconstruct, clear away what is, and step into the unknown, new world of greater life, greater wisdom. It is ultimately a journey that can only be yours. But you learn to do the work, take it on, practice living the complexity, and develop the wisdom through your connection and relationship with others.
This experience of the spiritual and wisdom journey that I promise to practice each moment, over and over – it is now a literal, physical part of my body. I became aware of what is so – there is cancer. There needs to be a deconstruction. The body that has provided me with an incredible life will need to shift if I am to continue to live and multiply and replenish my lived experiences. All that is needed to reconstruct my body is within me, helped along by those who can work with me through the reconstruction and restoration.
We need each other.
We feed each other.
I am writing this on the day of Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year.
Tomorrow, I have my deconstruction surgery.
The date of the surgery is 12 – 22 – 21. An interesting palindrome. Almost like a mirror. Deconstruction followed by reconstruction.
Christmas is coming. A time when we honor the young, poor, marginalized woman who had the ability, the power within her to bring the presence of God into the world.
Remember, the power of creation is yours.
Tomorrow, the day will be a little longer.
After the darkness, there is light.