My cancer story—I was struck by some photos I saw today of a man who recorded his wife’s cancer battle with his camera. I thought I had healed from my story. I’ve told it a hundred times. Actually felt since it wasn’t so horrendous as losing a breast or an organ, maybe my cancer story wasn’t bad or strong enough. Even with cancer, I am sharing with you here, I compared myself to others and thought mine wasn’t the most important story. I am not good enough, I did not suffer enough to make a difference with my story. I looked deeper into my soul after seeing the photos of this woman dying from breast cancer. What I heard was, “You are not yet healed. Someone else is not yet healed. Your story is significant. We all have a story that can help someone else, even if we aren’t aware of who, when, or why. Just write it and heal yourself.”
I decided to write it in increments, not the entire story. It happened in stages. Different lessons were learned during each stage. That’s how I will present it. So, here it is, as I play Sara Bareilles on my laptop, starting with my favorite song, “Brave”, I write my cancer story, not comparing mine to theirs, but to release it and heal. If someone else finds comfort, love to you.
Cancer. Why some die yet others survive. Life is a mystery but cancer is strikingly provocative. Its power can take hold of an entire family, grip everyone in its path, and devastate lives like a tsunami. That’s what it feels like, especially at first. A natural disaster. There are those first few days where the fear and hell have you in shock, frozen dead in your tracks. The not knowing how bad it is, how deep is it, how far has it enveloped the body? There is a point where you can’t breathe, can’t remember the last time you ate or washed.
The week I was diagnosed, I sat in the dark each night, in the corner of a strange room. Ray and I had just moved across country and were living in a hotel when I heard the news. During that week we found an apartment. But that dark corner where I had never been before felt like home, felt like the perfect place to hide from the fear in the complete darkness of the night. Yet, the fear was still there, no matter where I hid, the fear followed me. I called Grandma and there she was, sitting right next to me, as she had been since she passed, holding my arm telling me it was really going to be ok, that I could do this. I believed her but the fear still sat in my chest.
Waiting for the doctors to ‘get their act together’ was the worst waiting game I had ever played. I had to fly back to Boston for surgery because I jumped on cobra insurance seeing as my new job here in Portland didn’t offer any. Doctors, operating room schedules, plane and hotel reservations. With grandma’s help from the other side, I was able to muster the courage and chutzpah to get it all arranged. So unlike me to take charge like that. Already quite the learning experience.
A few weeks later, I found myself back home where I had just moved from. I was thankful to be where I knew the landscape, friends, stores, culture. But it still felt like an out of body experience-the fear still gripped me even though I was home again. It didn’t matter that I knew the places to eat, where to buy food, where people would recognize me and give me a big hug. I couldn’t get over this pit in my stomach. Mom flew up from Florida to be with me. She did great, normally not the peaceful, calm sort of person one would want around during such a situation. Worry and anxiety plagues the Jewish family. She did well to cover it up this time which I appreciated because there wasn’t anyone else I would want with me when facing cancer and surgery.
The day came to meet the oncologist. Nice Jewish name, I was glad of that. I was disappointed with his lack of bedside manner, however, not looking at me during the first meeting. He felt cold and uninterested. His casual demeanor upset me. His lack of eye contact really got my goat. Then he made a passing comment, which, if he did make eye contact, probably would have noticed something important. He said, “I am not concerned with the size of your melanoma. It is under average and should just be a quick removal of what’s left of it after the biopsy. I would only be concerned if someone was Ashkenazi (This means of Jewish descent from Russia/Eastern Europe, exactly where my ancestors were from!)”. When I replied, “Um, I am Ashkenazi, doctor.” That’s when he put his clipboard down and actually made eye contact….. His lack of concern and disinterest quickly turned into, what was that in his eyes? An ‘uh oh.’ Fear encapsulated his gaze. At least he was finally looking at me!