“It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.” Marcel Proust
“An illness is like a journey into a far country; it sifts all one’s experience and removes it to a point so remote that it appears like a vision.” Sholem Asch
When I came across these two quotes, I was struck with the truth in both. After my partial mastectomy (which left me with some skin, nipple, and upper tissue…for which I am thankful), I looked in the mirror and saw not only a mutilated breast, but drains snaking down to my waist filled with bloody fluid. I saw an alien creature with whom I had difficulty identifying. And little did I know that this was only the beginning. By the time chemo had taken over my body with fatigue that I didn’t know existed, and hair that came out in clumps in my hand, I had the first revelation that I truly was not my body. I was not the same person physically inside or outside, but I was the same inner self. The “me” that is “me,” was “chained to a creature of a different kingdom.” It seemed surreal: my body was “on a journey into a far country.” To quote a blogger colleague of mine, I was definitely in Cancerland.
The inner “me” began to have compassion for the Cancerland me. I gave my hair “permission” to fall out and told it I would be okay. I turned inward as much as possible in prayer, guided imagery, and meditation. I used my healing bowl on my chest so that I could feel the vibrations of the beautiful tones ringing throughout my body. I had monthly massages to keep blood circulating in my extremities (with the permission of my doctor) to attempt to mitigate the side effect of neuropathy, particularly from the Taxol. I had acupuncture after each chemo treatment and a Reiki treatment three or four times during the course of treatment. The important thing to me was to stay in touch with the “inner me” so I wasn’t “lost” when it was time to return from this “distant kingdom,” this “journey to a far country.”
It has been eleven years since my diagnosis on October 26th, 2004. I have some mild side effects, both mentally and physically. Through much research and in connection with many survivors, I understand that once you visit Cancerland, you never totally return; that would not be possible. The physical and mental trauma is too great. Good self-care is an absolute necessity for the journey and ever-after. Be an active participant with your treatment team for your physical and emotional well-being, and be an active participant with the “inner you” to protect and respect that Divine space. Amen and Namaste
I went for my yearly mammography and sonogram, waited five days for results and then heard that I need to return for a follow-up mammogram. I previously lived on Long Island, New York and went to a Breast Cancer Center for my testing and was always informed of the results on the same day. For five years I continued to travel three hours for my yearly test, but this year decided to pick up my records and schedule my testing for a local radiology center. I had a choice of a regular radiology center or a breast care center, but when informed that they both used the same radiologist, decided to go to the regular radiology center. Maybe this was my way of finally deciding to let go of the past. Yesterday, I was informed that the radiologist wants a follow-up mammography regarding calcifications in my left breast (I had breast cancer in my right breast). My next appointment is in two days. The first thing I needed to do for myself was gain some knowledge regarding calcifications. I went to Breastcancer.org for this information. “Calcifications are tiny flecks of calcium…like grains of salt…in the soft tissue of the breast that can sometimes indicate the presence of an early breast cancer. Calcifications usually can’t be felt, but they appear on a mammogram. Depending on how they’re clustered and their shape, size, and number, your doctor may want to do further tests. Calcifications can be macrocalcifications or microcalcifications. Macrocalcifications usually do not require any follow-up as they are usually not associated with cancer. Groups of small calcifications huddled together, called “clusters of microcalcifications,” are associated with extra breast cell activity. Most of the time this is non-cancerous extra cell growth, but sometimes clusters of microcalcifications can occur in areas of early cancer.” On-line I also read at least half of all women over 50 have some form of calcification and they can also be caused by trauma. I keep trying to remind myself of all this information and the statistic. I have had to have a “discussion” with myself regarding all the emotions coming up. I know that a lot of the fear, sadness, anger are triggered by the original diagnosis/testing ten years ago. The body and mind remembers and will “clobber” us, if we allow it. I attempt to keep my mind in the present moment and the present circumstances. It is not a mass this time; if it is cancerous, it is probably very early. I try to keep my mind positive, utilizing meditation and prayer. I keep repeating the centering thoughts: “my security and peace are within,” my strength and power are within.” Part of one of my favorite prayers: “Gracious God you tell us you do not give us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.” When we can truly believe this, we can face what the future brings, not necessarily fearlessly, but knowing we embody the strength needed to move forward. If my mammography shows pre-cancerous or cancerous calcifications, I will have decisions to make. Until then, I will attempt to live in the moment, repeat my centering thoughts and prayers often, and acknowledge my emotions (reducing their power) and accepting them as a normal reaction to ambiguious test results. Blessings.