The “C” Word

About 30 years or so ago, I learned I had cervical cancer. I was a young woman, and recall being very scared about my own mortality. I wondered if I’d ever be able to bear children? Would I need chemo? Radiation? I wondered a lot of things, but mostly I just wondered if I’d live. I got a second opinion that told me I needed to have the surgery yesterday and that we couldn’t schedule it fast enough. And so I did. And thirty years later, I’m still here. A survivor.

Every annual exam, every Pap smear, even all these years later brings anxiety. No news is good news. So far I’ve been blessed with good news. But on the eve of a recheck, for a breast lump detected 6 months ago, that old anxiety has returned. It doesn’t matter how much love or support you have around you, the inclination (in my case anyway) is to start looking deep inside myself and asking myself questions I don’t really want to talk about. Health care questions. Mortality questions. Quality of life questions. End of life questions. Questions I didn’t anticipate thinking about for another 30 years, but here they are, a serpent rising up in my face.

Stay on the train.

The college class I’m in is for my English major and is called “ Doctors, Patients and Writers”. Needless to say, it has thus far been eye opening. Tonight in class we talked about commitment, in your professional and personal life. So, for instance, from a medical student’s perspective, they literally go into crisis mode when deciding what area of medicine they want to go into…forever. Will they always feel passionate about it? Will it be ENOUGH? Will their love of dermatology or internal medicine or whatever it is they choose be enough?

It begs the same question with relationships. It won’t be perfect, but will it be enough to sustain you? Can you commit to it for the long haul? Can you accept your partner’s imperfections and still have the long and sustaining love that is required to nurture the relationship? It’s a fair question.

Let’s keep going. You will occasionally be forced to look at your health. Will you crumble at less than stellar news or will you rise up to fight the good fight?Are you prepared to do some research and fight for your own life? Or will you accept whatever diagnosis is handed to you and start whatever treatment you are told is deemed necessary? Steve Jobs initially rejected western medicine and it’s probably what cost him his life. On the other hand, I was once told a story of a very sick woman, who I actually know, who was taken into a Native American Indian sweat lodge and cured in 30 days (the details are fuzzy, but this is the gist). She saved herself and it is doubtful western medicine could have.

So the questions continue. And as I said, no matter how much support you have, this can be a very isolating, introverted thing. Even people like me, who write all this stuff down and openly share it with the world, it’s still a quiet thing. The calm before the potential storm. I have no magic answer, no magic bullet, no predictions. I have my own thoughts to deal with. You spend time with your god, with your church, with your place of worship. You do you as you never have before. And recognize that while you’re not quite ready to leave this place, that you have things to do and things you want to finish, the possibility exists. And fortunately you have already reconciled with death.

So you pull up your big girl pants and deal. You meditate. You try to remain calm. And hope for the best. But know in your heart of hearts that there’s a warrior deep down in there protecting you. And she’s kinda feisty.

This is just chaos. And naked grace. And THIS I know how to do. I totally got this.

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